Cave Man (The First Mountain Man #1) by Frankie Love



Sarah laughs. "You want a one-way ticket? So you're never coming back?"

I shrug. "What do I have to come back to anyways?"

"Thanks for nothing," Tori laughs. "You could come back for me."

I smile, taking a sip of the wine. Sarah, though, she already has her phone out. Apparently, she's eager for me to go. I laugh, deciding to go with the flow. Choosing to believe the universe will have my back.

"No hard feelings?" she asks, showing me the Expedia web page for a one-way ticket to Mexico.

"No hard feelings," I say. "Hell, maybe I'll fly back for your wedding one day."





Seven days later, I've landed in Mexico. My life savings has been consolidated in one checking account and I have a credit card that will hopefully save my ass in case of a disaster. But I hope there aren’t any disasters looming. I want to have some good old-fashioned me-time.

I have my backpack loaded with all the gear I could imagine, a one-person tent, an extra pair of wool socks, hiking boots that are broken in, and nylon shorts that have plenty of pockets. I'm not exactly bringing sexy back with this look, but that's not what this trip is about. This is about finding myself, about finding that zest for life.

I spend over a week winding down the Yucatan Peninsula. I stay in camp sites and explore the city of Playa del Carmen, before making my way to Tulum. The food is incredible, the ocean is majestic, and I find myself smiling more than I have in a long time.

It was a little unnerving the first night at an unfamiliar campsite, surrounded by strangers, but everyone was here for their reasons, and everyone was polite if not kind. I'm definitely off the beaten path. If I had that TikTok account, I would be videoing the hell out of this place, but I don't and I'm not. Instead, I'm soaking it all in.

Today I am going to explore what a Google search told me was one of the most magical caves in all of the Yucatan. I'm just south of Tulum and the underground caves supposedly run for miles. I'm a little excited. Okay, more than a little excited. Hell, if the caves are as nice as the picture looked, I might even put on my swimsuit and take a dip in one of the cenotes.

It's a little strange being on my own as a woman, but I have my pepper spray, and my working knowledge of the language has helped me so far. Besides, I trust myself, my instincts. And as I go deeper into the cave, I start to really believe that.

Sure, my life hasn't panned out the exact way I wanted. I grew up in foster care. My dad was an asshole who never got his life together to take care of me. My mom? Never even met her. I haven't the first idea what love is, which is probably why I have that bad dick detector. But today, all that stuff in my past is behind me. I'm focused on one thing and one thing alone, the present.

All seems well until a group of rowdy guys run into the caves, laughing. They're speaking a language I don’t recognize, with hard consonants and fast syllables. One thing leads to another and I realize they have firecrackers with them.

"Stop," I shout, feeling like this is completely inappropriate, all things considered. We're in one of the most magical places I've ever been. The cave is cavernous and beautiful, stalactites hanging above. It's dark in here and cold. But it feels special and sacred.

I know there are bats in the ceiling, but they don't scare me. The only thing that's scaring me in this moment are these jackass guys who are trying to create chaos during my moment of bliss. It's not okay.

"Just knock it off," I say in Spanish, hoping they can understand. "Go do that somewhere else. Please. Leave me alone. What did this cave ever do to you?"

But it's too late. They've already lit them. And those firecrackers, they're big, and they go off fast. I'm fuming. For a moment, I hold my breath as they crackle and pop, but then I scream, feeling like the blast is bigger than those boys anticipated.

I duck low, covering myself with my arms, screaming as the entire cave seems to rattle and roll, rumbling around me. I gasp, falling on my back as rocks begin to fall from the ceiling of the cave, and the entire thing is shaking in a way that is otherworldly.

Before I black out, my last thought is this: I was so busy spending my whole life avoiding dickheads that I never even got the chance to fall in love.

And now? I never will.





3





Stone





I hear her before I see her. A woman shrieking, swearing like a sailor. I frown, on high alert. I haven't heard a human voice besides my own in five long years. That's a lot of days to count by marking with a stick on a stone. One day merging into a week, a month, a year.