"A smoking hot romance... The chemistry between Luke and Madison is electric, and the sex scenes are scorching hot." --RT Book Reviews
"A scorching hot read that weaves raunchy sensual escapades with the emotionally resonant tropes of healing after heartbreak and how to compromise when opposites attract." --Library Journal
Fresh off a divorce from a Hollywood hotshot, Madison Atwood needs an escape. With the paparazzi fresh on her heels and her love life splashed on every tabloid, she runs away to a swanky retreat in Northern California. Avalon Springs is the mountainside haven she needs to find herself again.
Luke Dawson lives off the grid, preferring solitude to society. When he finds a beautiful woman soaking in the hot springs on his property, he can’t stop himself from watching her. She captures his attention, but she’s just a city girl—a beautiful distraction disturbing the peace he’s settled here to find.
When Madison discovers Luke’s secluded cabin, he can’t turn her away again. They make no promises. Madison needs to feel wanted again, and Luke misses the touch of a woman. But when mother nature has other plans, they’re forced to spend more than a night of passion together. Can Luke say goodbye to the only woman who’s made him feeling anything in years, and can Madison leave behind the man who brought her back to life?
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My heart leaps at the sound. A rush of fizz pours from the top of the champagne bottle, dousing my hands. I curse inwardly and mop the mess off the counter. Not bothering with a glass, I take the bottle with me to the couch and curl up for another quiet night in. I flip through the channels and settle on a made-for-TV movie. All I need is a pint of Ben & Jerry’s to complete my look as a miserable divorcée.
I thought when all the paperwork was finalized today, something would change… I would change. I was no longer Madison Cleary, the wife on the arm of a rising star. I was officially Madison Atwood again. The new Madison should feel happy and relieved and free. But something about this celebration feels so incredibly empty.
I close my eyes and exhale a tired sigh.
Goddamn him. As hard as I try, I can’t seem to let go of my anger.
Rejection. Hope. Failure. Determination. Yes…determination is here and fighting for ground too.
I put the bottle down and reach for my laptop. The Internet has answers and surely this isn’t the end for me. The failure of my marriage has been a devastating blow, without a doubt. But I can’t let my famous and infamously unfaithful husband—ex-husband—jeopardize my future.
Sometimes it feels like he’s everywhere, though. Clients, gigs, and friends still exist in our shared circles. If I ever want to feel completely myself again, I need a break. I need to get away from LA, the whispers, and the chapter of my life that I’d just signed into the past.
A trip to Baja, maybe. Meet a sexy, rich producer who would blacklist the fucker I’d stood by so faithfully through his rise to fame. We’d sip expensive champagne and eat just enough decadent food to fuel our back-to-back sexcapades. And of course we’d kill time in between by frolicking in the clear blue ocean.
I let that fantasy play out for a few minutes before tugging my thoughts back to reality, or at least a more realistic getaway. The last few months of marriage to Jeremy and the subsequent months negotiating our divorce had produced the most anguished dry spell I had experienced since high school. Jeremy and I had met as naïve, fumbling teenagers. We’d been together ever since. I’d been stupid in love with him then.
The memory hits me, but the pain hits me harder—deep in my gut, before it travels up my esophagus causing a painful burn. Goddamn. All those memories are tainted now, and I hate him for that more than anything.
Maybe it won’t always be this way. Maybe one day I’ll heal. He’ll be a memory, but a distant one. I won’t always feel this way…
Emotionally charged, I start a new search for spa retreats. As much as I wish I could fuck the feelings away on a tropical island with a beautiful stranger, I know no good will come from that. I need a real break. Something restorative. Something that can heal all the tears in my heart.
The first few search results return locations in northern California. Far enough from LA, but close enough that I could come back for work in a pinch. I click through website after website. The options are either too dated, too crunchy, or tout a brand of spirituality I’m not ready for. I don’t want to be converted. I just need some quiet time, maybe a few massages, and some fresh mountain air.
Pure determination brings me to the second page of results. I click on the website for Avalon Springs Retreat. My heart lifts and brings some hope up with it. Avalon Springs is basically a spa in the mountains. Home-cooked meals, yoga classes, a few outdoor excursions, and big blocks of time meant to help people re-center. The owners look like legit hippies. The accommodations appear clean and comfortable. And it doesn’t seem like a convoluted tourist trap for the prima donnas I’m hoping to take a break from.
I check my schedule, ignore the pricing—because I deserve this no matter the cost—and book a four-week stay.
Today I am Madison Atwood, and the next chapter of my life is going to start at Avalon Springs.
* * * *
“Here’s your room key. You have a king suite in the Olive Annex, which is that way. It’s only the next building over, so you’re not far from the dining room and the classes.” The young girl with flawless skin and thick blond dreads points to the front entrance of the retreat. “Every Saturday we do an orientation session here in the main house. That’ll start in about an hour.”
“An orientation?” I lift my gaze from the paper nametag where Indigo is written in sloppy script to her pale gray eyes.
She smiles loosely, as if she hasn’t experienced an ounce of tension in her life. “Yeah. It’s kind of like a meet and greet. You’ll introduce yourself to the other residents, do some breathing exercises and stretching, and Vi and Lou will talk a little bit more about the springs.”
“Great,” I mutter, not bothering to disguise my lack of enthusiasm. I doubt this easy-breezy flower child will pick up on it anyway.
I tuck the cool metal key into my back pocket, a small sign of my commitment to this getaway that I already fear is a complete and utter mistake. The reception area is noisy as a pack of people linger outside what appears to be a yoga class. Or maybe it’s the beginning of the orientation gathering. Anxiety hits and the familiar burn in my stomach follows.
There is nothing quiet about this. Nothing restorative. Sure, this is a definite break from the city scene, but these are not my people. I can rub shoulders with Hollywood’s rich and famous, but five minutes with this enlightened collective is sending me into a tailspin.
I cut Indigo off before she can finish her intro speech, grab the check-in paperwork, and head out the front door a lot faster than I came through it. The journey from my Beamer to my room is mercifully short, although I’m not thrilled to be staying so close to the epicenter of this “quiet mountainside retreat.”
I send up a tiny prayer of thanks that at least the room delivers. It’s all as advertised—clean, cozy, and spacious. After a quick tour of the room’s amenities, I peek out the window to see what or who is making the noise. A stream of apparently eager “residents” are filing into the main building. Yoga pants and head bands seem to be the uniform. I stare down at my outfit—torn jeans, a tight V-neck, and a pair of well-loved Chucks.
Decidedly out of my element, I grab my key and the map of the property that I’d all but torn out of Indigo’s hand and head out. I walk briskly past the small crowd and keep moving until they are only a quiet murmur of activity behind me.
The landscape here is different than anything I’m used to. I’d been an East Coast girl all my life, always working on my career, and—once we came out west—his career, so I rarely made it to the more scenic places in California.
As I follow a wide, worn path that weaves into denser areas, my thoughts are loud. Doubt. Regret. Hopelessness. They shout and cling to me. If I walked into that orientation right now, I’d be wearing it all over me. I’d be a beacon of not belonging. That lost woman whose husband left her because she wasn’t the quintessential arm candy he needed her to be. The rejection and the pain feel like a big, ugly tattoo that no amount of time will ever be able to wear off.
I push myself farther, vaguely noting the incline and the fine sheen of perspiration that beads on my skin as I go. Maybe Avalon Springs isn’t the haven I truly need. But I’ve come this far…
Tears burn behind my eyes because I’m alone. So utterly alone.
Clusters of pines hug the trail. Above the treetops, the sky is a majestic shade of purple. My thoughts quiet enough for me to realize that despite being well away from the retreat center now, night is coming on and I have no idea where I am or where I’m going. But the faint sound of water lures me forward.
Beyond the trees is a clearing, a well of water at its center. Despite the cooler temperature at this elevation, steam swirls off the vibrant turquoise pool. I scale a smooth, round rock and test the temperature of the water with my fingertips. Perfect, like a freshly drawn bath.
This must be the Avalon Springs. The retreat’s namesake promises healing properties from the mineral deposits that run off the nearby mountains. Rivulets of water trail off higher rocks and down into nature’s most perfect bath tub.
After taking a quick glance around, I act. I strip my clothes and dip my naked toes into the water. Then, with care, I submerge my body. I let my head slip underwater, and my hair swirls like a thousand strands of silk around my bare shoulders. I groan with relief and bubbles float through the clear water to the surface. I take turns swimming and sinking my whole body deep into the water. The heat and the water, being unburdened of my clothes and all those heavy thoughts… Nothing has ever felt so good.
My toes find the bottom, and I launch myself back to the surface when I need air. After a while I wade to a place where I can easily stand. My breasts hover just above the surface of the water. I pull myself onto a wide, flat rock that frames the pool and lie on it, unbothered that it’s both hard and cool against my skin. I’m warm and relaxed from my swim in the springs.
I close my eyes, enjoying the simple sounds of water and birds and the isolation that I’d hiked all this way to find. I skim my hands over my skin, and for the first time in what seems like forever, I notice a faint pulse between my thighs. God, I’m strung so tight lately. So in need of release. Encouraged that my body is still paying attention to some of my basic needs, I touch and tease myself to a higher point of arousal.
Getting close, I spread my thighs and dip a finger into my pussy while the other plays my clit like a record. Minutes pass as I deftly manipulate the places that ache for the attention of a man. And not just any man. One who won’t break me all over again. I don’t have one of those, so for now, my touch will have to do.
My breathing ticks up with my pace. I’ve brought myself to this point a thousand times. I know just what to do. More times than not, though, the act leaves me feeling empty. Physically satisfied, but never emotionally. I don’t care. After the five-hour drive from the city, I need a release. I curve my fingers deeper into my pussy and graze the tips rhythmically across the rough pad of skin inside. The soft head of a man’s engorged cock would feel better there, but whatever.
I lick my lips and imagine a man is pleasing me right now. Thick and brawny, passion in his eyes, he’s filling me with every inch of his silky cock. He’s telling me I’m beautiful, that I feel better than anyone he’s ever had. He’s grazing over that magic spot, over…and over…and…
With a sharp inhale, I bow off the rock, so close, so ready. My heels and shoulder blades press hard against the rock. I release a cry that’s half arousal and half frustration, because the orgasm is just beyond reach.
I open my eyes. Stars puncture the navy sky with tiny pinpricks of light. I glance back to the trail and push down a flash of worry that I might not be able to find my way back.
Then I see him through the trees. And I scream.
I’m not sure what possessed me to stop and watch her. She’d been loud enough marching up the path. Another city girl passing through the retreat at the base of the mountain, no doubt. I’d come here tonight to enjoy the springs because Saturday is their turnover day and the new residents rarely venture up past sunset.
But the second this woman’s clothes hit the ground, I couldn’t move. I should have made my way back to my cabin up the mountainside, but instead I watched her swim and float like a goddess through the water. She had long brown hair that clung in a straight slick v down her back when she rose above the water, revealing possibly the most perfect set of breasts I’d ever seen on a woman.
And then, with only a little guilt, I watched her slide up on that rock and plunge her slender fingers into her pussy until her cries echoed off the rocks and rendered the forest and my breathing silent. Now I’m hard, in absolutely no condition to comfortably return home. And I can’t in good conscience leave her up here as night quickly falls around us.
When our eyes locked, she screamed and slipped back into the water to hide her nakedness. I adjust myself enough to disguise how her little display has affected me and walk closer.
“Who are you?” Her voice is shaky with panic. She stares at me wide-eyed, probably contemplating if I’m going to do her any harm.
At this hour, this far from the retreat, she is wise to worry. Nothing could protect her from someone of my size and skillset if I had malicious intentions.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” I offer gently, hoping to ease her fears. “You’re out here pretty late. Do you know your way back?”
She folds her arms over her chest, even though I can’t see anything under the water anyway.
“I have a map.”
I smirk and glance briefly at the pile of clothes she’d abandoned for the springs. “Yeah? Do you have a flashlight to read the map?”
Grooves mark the space between her dark winged brows. Her eyes are stunning in their shape and intensity, even if I couldn’t place the precise color in the fading light.
“I can take you back. Someone like you shouldn’t be out here alone.”
Her frown deepens. “Someone like me?”
“You’re at least a mile from the retreat. You have no supplies and no provisions. Someone without a healthy fear of the wild outdoors, at this hour or any other, shouldn’t be out here alone.”
“I don’t need rescuing, okay?”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Another asshole from the city with too much ego and not enough sense. “Let’s go. I’ll take you back.”
Slowly she moves to the edge toward her clothes, never taking her eyes off me. “Look away, please.”
I laugh. “I’ve seen a lot more than you’re about to show me.”
Her eyes widened and her nostrils flare. Without another word, I turn casually to give her privacy that seems pointless after what I just witnessed. A minute later, the sound of her sneakers scraping against the rock prompts me to turn. She is fully dressed, and I allow myself a moment to appreciate her body with clothes on. Her jeans hug her thighs nicely, and her breasts look fuller in the tight shirt.
I dislodge the thoughts around that assessment before my cock starts misbehaving again. I haven’t been with a woman in a long time, and even though I despise everything this one probably stands for, I can’t help that the beast in me wants to tear her clothes off and bury myself inside her until we both come. Repeatedly.
I mutter a curse under my breath before turning and heading swiftly down the path.
A few minutes pass and I don’t need to look back. I hear ragged breathing and branches cracking under her careful footing—signs she is struggling to keep up. She has no business in the woods. Why Lou and Vi keep luring these idiots to this beautiful place is beyond me. People like her will never belong here. They’ll never appreciate this place the way they should. A week in the mountains is a fashion statement for most of these people, and I just want them out of my woods and off my mountain so I can enjoy what I came here for. Solitude. Peace. A simple life. A quiet dip in the springs without some sexy little city girl cluttering up my thoughts with her sweet pussy…because I’m pretty sure it’s sweet, and oh so tight.
I halt in my tracks and spin. The brunette nearly barrels into me. I catch her by the shoulders when she tips off balance. Somehow she feels smaller in my arms, just a little bit of flesh covering the delicate structure of her frame. Her wet hair dampens her shirt, drawing my attention to that lovely rack again. Goddamn, this woman is a distraction I didn’t ask for.
“You can get there from here,” I say gruffly.
Her eyes go wide again. “I can?”
The moonlight glints on her skin. If she’d worn makeup, the springs had washed it away, leaving her natural and bare. She’s definitely pretty. A pert nose and a little bow of a mouth. There’s nothing exotic or stark about her features, but she’s someone who looks perfectly gorgeous with no effort.
I release my hold on her and jab my thumb in the direction behind me. “It’s just a few yards down the path. You’ll see the lights, and they will lead you the rest of the way.”
“Thank you,” she says softly, almost too softly to hear if not for the near silence of the woods at night. Gone is the tone she’d given me earlier. How she’d gone from rapture to claiming that she didn’t need rescuing, I didn’t know. But maybe that had been fear talking.
I wince, because I don’t like the idea of being feared. I’d never hurt her, or anyone. Even if I didn’t want them in my woods. “You don’t have to thank me.”
“Yes, I do. You could have left me there, or…”
“Or?” I lift an eyebrow, challenging her to say it out loud.
True enough, I could have done all the things I couldn’t stop thinking about right now. I could have gotten myself between her silky thighs, plunged into her, stretched her pussy around me, and satisfied her in ways those pretty little fingers never would.
But she doesn’t say any of that. She doesn’t say a word. She only gazes up at me, and for a second I wonder if she can read my thoughts, if somehow this unexpected depravity radiates off me. Then her hands slide up the front of my chest, and I almost forget how to breathe.
“What’s your name?” Her voice is a whisper now, like she’s hiding from her own words.
When had a woman touched me last? I can’t fucking breathe.
I push past her, forcing my legs to move me back up the trail. I have to get the hell away from her.