The second book in Annabeth Albert’s amazingggg Frozen Hearts series is coming in one month—featuring a silver fox attorney and a hot pilot—and I’ve teamed up with two of my favourite Book Blogs to share with you an awesome sneak peek. I have the first part, Shh Moms Reading will have the continuation on May 15, and the final part will be revealed by Maryse’s Book Blog on May 29.
“As a writer, I love the moment when everything starts to change, when two characters become aware of each other on a different level than previously, when awareness starts to crackle and defenses start to soften. This excerpt, which occurs early in Arctic Wild, is just such a turning point where my silver fox, Reuben, starts to be aware of his hot younger tour guy, Toby, in a new way.” —Annabeth Albert
Brooks Falls was apparently a popular tourist spot with planes from other touring companies already docked and plenty of tourists along the short hike. They stopped twice to greet rangers and fellow tour guides who Toby knew, and Reuben was a little impressed at how well respected Toby seemed to be by his peers. He’d already known Toby to be charming, but seeing how others responded to him made Reuben value his expertise a little more.
As they walked, Toby told him about the archaeology of the area and the nine-thousand-year-old artifacts that had been found nearby. His reverence for the spot further impressed Reuben. He envied that deep connection to the land and its history. And he enjoyed listening to Toby talk on a level that surprised him even more than the spark of attraction had—he genuinely enjoyed being around Toby in a way he hadn’t had in a long time, even with his friends.
The falls were a wide swath of rushing water spanning the width of the river. With the trail ending at the wooden viewing platforms, tourists were prevented from going down to the riverbank. At first, Reuben didn’t notice anything other than the pristine beauty of the surroundings.
“Look to your left, about ten o’clock. In the foliage.” Toby advised.
“Is that…a bear?” A fuzzy round shape was barely visible through the dense vegetation. The bearlike shape was larger than Reuben had expected, even from this distance away.
“Yup. Now if we wait, it may come out, and it might even have friends or babies with it.”
Yesterday, Reuben would have been tapping his foot, ready to move on, but something had shifted inside him in the past twenty-four hours. Waiting was no hardship now, not with so many details to take in—logs rushing over the falls, more intriguing shadows that could be wildlife on the banks, gorgeous contrast between the deep blue river and the baby blue sky.
I’ve missed this. He didn’t realize that he’d actually voiced the thought until Toby smiled at him and nodded.
“Funny how so many people get too busy for nature and almost forget it’s out there.” Toby’s tone was understanding.
“Yes.” Memories came rushing back to Reuben—camp as a kid, summers on the Jersey shore in college, brief trips and vacations since then, but somehow along the way, he’d lost touch with the kid he’d been when he first stepped off the bus at camp, in awe of the endless expanse of trees and all the different smells and sounds. And maybe that was what he meant—not that he missed this, a place he’d never been before, but that he missed that younger version of himself, missed the joy he’d once taken in the outdoors.
As he contemplated this, the shadow from the banks lumbered out of the trees, a large, brown bear, and sure enough, Toby had been right that it was accompanied by another, slightly smaller bear. They made their way into the water.
“They’re so big. And it’s amazing how they stand the water.” The small amount that had seeped into Reuben’s waders and splashed on his skin had been icy. No way could he swim in that.
“They’re used to it. And see how they play?” Toby pointed to how the larger of the two was poised on the top of the falls now, directly in the path of the rushing water, balance sure and steady. “They’re looking for dinner, but they have fun too.”
Reuben could sense that—the creatures carried a strong air of contentment with them. Not that he wanted to get any closer though and test how friendly they actually were. “Are we dinner?”
Toby’s laugh at his weak joke hit Reuben square in the chest—he had a great laugh, rich and deep, and his eyes crinkled with good humor. “Not tonight. The rangers keep this place patrolled and safe. In general, if you stay away from the bear, it stays away from you, but there are things you can do to protect yourself too.”
“Like what?” Reuben was surprised at how much he cared about the response. He was no longer simply being polite, and continued to ask follow-up questions about bear safety as they made their way back to the plane. Toby shared several stories of close encounters various tour groups had had over the years, and by the time they were back at the plane, Reuben had forgotten to be nervous about the short flight back to the lodge.
And once they landed, instead of being eager to try for a cell signal, he found himself reluctant to part from Toby.
“Do we have time before dinner?” he asked.
“A little. Maybe not enough for a nap, but plenty of time for a shower or to check out that sauna or the hot tub on the main lodge’s deck.”
“Maybe the hot tub,” he allowed. “How about you? Do you ever use the amenities here?”
“I have on occasion,” Toby said slowly.
“Care to join me?” Reuben realized too late how forward that sounded, his voice lower than he’d intended.
“I shouldn’t.” Toby’s laugh had an uncomfortable edge to it.
Reuben had run into the boundary between them—this wasn’t the start of a friendship, no matter how pleasant it felt. Toby was paid to be this nice to everyone, and he really didn’t need a come-on from an old goat like Reuben.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “Didn’t mean to imply…”
“Nah, it’s okay.” Toby waved Reuben’s concern away. “I’ve got to call Fishhook, confirm our plans for tomorrow. But it’s not…not that I’m not tempted, you know?”
“I get it. Guess I’ll head to my cabin.”
“Sounds good.” Toby gave Reuben a searching look, one that felt like he could see deep inside him, and something passed between them, a brief sizzle of heat, an unspoken acknowledgment of mutual attraction that made warmth surge to Reuben’s face. But regret was there in Toby’s eyes too.
And Reuben got it—the guy had ethics, but that didn’t mean Reuben wasn’t a little disappointed as he made his way back to his cabin alone. He had to laugh at himself. Wouldn’t Craig find this hilarious? He’d told Reuben to enjoy himself, but even he probably hadn’t meant pining for the tour guide like a kid with a crush on a camp counselor.
But you’re both consenting adults… Reuben could almost hear Craig’s reply. And yes, yes they were. Ethics were great and something Reuben could respect, but he still felt the warmth of that look. Something was there, brewing between them, and whatever it was, it made the rest of the trip suddenly a lot more intriguing . . .