Wild North (The North Brothers, #1) by J.B. Salsbury





One





Jordan



“Do you hear that?” I whisper from behind the warmth of my sleeping bag. The sun is barely up over the mountains to fight off the overnight chill that blows through our secondhand tent. “Lincoln, wake up.” I do my best to jostle him with my foot—no easy task when wrapped up like a sausage.

He groans and cracks an eyelid that is mostly covered with his low-pulled beanie.

“Oh, good, you’re awake. Listen. Tell me what you hear.”

He remains still, blinks, and then mutters, “I don’t hear shit.”

A surge of giddy excitement wells up in me. “Exactly! No neighbors yelling, footsteps rattling our ceiling, car horns, screeching tires, motorcycles… it’s heaven, right?”

His brown eyes narrow. “You woke me up for this?”

“No.” The rustling of my sleeping bag fills the tent as I lift up and scoot closer. “I woke you up for this.” I drop a kiss to his cold lips.

He kisses me back with little enthusiasm. Something I’m getting used to.

I don’t know exactly when the spark between us began to dull. I only know that it has. This camping trip was my attempt to remove all outside distractions and see if we could get our relationship back on track. See if we could find that spark again.

He surveys my hopeful, enthusiastic expression and frowns. “I know what you’re going to ask,” he says. “And the answer is no.”

I frown and wonder why he even agreed to a weekend camping since he’s made little effort to enjoy it. “I’m not ready to go back to the city.” Because I’ll have to face the reality that we need to break up and all the complications that come with that. We live together and work together, and for the last few years, we’ve built an entire life together.

“We have to.” He unzips his sleeping bag and grabs for his coat. “Shit, it’s cold. I’m ready to get back to a working furnace.”

“Working furnace, yeah, right.” The furnace in our place is one hundred years old and has a fifty percent success rate.

“You know what I mean.” He punches his socked feet into his hiking boots and unzips the tent door. “Son of a bitch, it’s freezing,” he mumbles as he stomps away from our campsite—I assume to pee.

I fall back to my sleeping bag with a sigh. The fresh air of the Adirondacks, as cold as it may be, is a soothing balm to my city-weary soul. I would stay out here for months if I could. The peace, the quiet, and reconnecting with nature are a reset button that I desperately needed.

If only the outdoors had the same reset effect on Lincoln and me.

As grim as our relationship’s future may look, I refuse to waste another minute of my last day in the mountains. I slip on my jacket, pull a pair of pants over my long johns, drop my feet into my boots, and duck out of the tent.

I throw the last of our firewood into the makeshift pit and work on getting a fire started, just as Lincoln reemerges from the pines. “The temperature dropped by at least fifteen degrees since yesterday,” he says, rubbing his arms and taking a seat on the log that we had set close to the fire.

After a little coaxing, the flames kick up, and I grab our camping kettle to warm water for tea. Why does everything taste better when consumed in the forest? I’ve always thought green tea tasted like watered-down dirt, but out here, it’s like manna from the gods.

“What the hell…” My friend Courtney comes out of her tent with her arms wrapped around her midsection and her scarf up to her eyes. “Where’s the snow?”

“Snow’s not supposed to hit for a few more days, but it should start raining tonight.” Darin emerges from their tent behind her, his head tilted back and eyes on the sky. “I don’t see any rain clouds yet.”

Courtney takes a seat on the log next to Lincoln while Darin disappears into the woods to do his business. Darin is Lincoln’s friend, and asking him along was my way of sweetening the deal so that Lincoln, who usually isn’t much of an outdoorsman, would agree to go. I invited my friend Courtney in an attempt at setting the two of them up. Lincoln tells me I shouldn’t get involved in other people’s love lives, but Courtney always complains about her lack of a male companion, so I figured, why not? Their tent is big enough for them to sleep a platonic distance apart, but they’re both attractive and single, so…

“What’s going on with you guys?” I whisper while keeping my eyes on the trees to make sure Darin doesn’t catch me being nosey.