Excerpt – Lori Wilde

Bachelors of Bear Creek Bundle: An Anthology

The Bachelors of Bear Creek

WILD WOMEN WANTED! Do You Have What It Takes To Become A Wilderness Wife?

Cammie Jo Lockhart sat cross-legged on her bed, her laptop computer pushed to one side, staring down at page 110 of the glossy women’s magazine in her hand.

She should be working on her dissertation, she really should, but the photograph of four very eligible, very shirtless Alaskan bachelors provided a more provocative lure than “The Role of the Personal Computer in the Development of Archive Retrieval.”

She had been fascinated with the June issue of Metropolitan since her copy had arrived in her post office box in mid-May featuring the bachelors’ advertisement and the accompanying essay contest sponsored by the magazine. The winning entry would receive a two-week, all-expenses-paid vacation to Bear Creek, Alaska.

The trip was what interested Cammie Jo. The blue-jean clad, bare-chested hunks were just an added bonus.

Soon, the winner would be announced. Too bad she’d been too chicken to enter. Cammie Jo sighed, her gaze lingering on the picture she’d committed to late-night fantasy. Quinn Scofield, wilderness guide. Caleb Greenleaf, naturalist. Jake Gerard, B&B owner and last but not least, Mack McCaulley, bush pilot. All four were heart-stoppingly gorgeous but time and again, her eyes were drawn to Mack.

What a man, what a man, what a man. The guy was so hot her fingers scorched just turning the page to read about him.

He was everything she had ever wanted but could never have, with his sensual cleft chin, short dark-brown hair, sun-kissed cheeks and deep chocolate eyes. He had a defiant expression on his face as if to say, “I’m not scared of anyone or anything.” Something in his brave countenance called to the squeaky mouse inside her.

A rap at her door had her stuffing the magazine under the covers. She didn’t want her aunts in on the secret that Cammie Jo, serious academician, had a soft spot for a frivolous women’s magazine featuring silly articles on sex and love and romance.

She pushed her thick, black-frame glasses up on her nose, tucked an escaping hank of dishwater blond hair back into the loose bun piled atop her head.

“Come in.”

The door opened and her three great-aunts, whom she shared a home with near the University of Texas in Austin, peeked their heads in.
 
“Guess what?” Aunt Coco asked in a teasing singsong.

“It’s so exciting.” Aunt Hildegard’s blue eyes, the same color as Cammie Jo’s, twinkled.

“You won!” Aunt Kiki squealed and clapped her hands, unable to stand the suspense any longer.

“Won?” Cammie Jo blinked. “Won what?”

“The contest.”

“What contest?”

“The one in the magazine you love so much. You know, the one with the bachelors. The one giving away the free vacation.”

“But I never entered the contest,” Cammie Jo protested, realizing she was busted.

A sinking sensation plunged into the pit of her stomach at the same time a strange euphoria said hello to her heart. She thought of the brief passage she’d scribbled on a piece of scrap paper and tucked between the folds of the magazine, never meaning to send the thirty-words-or-less essay.

I want to go to Alaska because I’m very timid and more than anything in the world I long to be brave. If Alaska can’t save me, nothing can.

“We found your entry and sent it in for you.”

“No.” Cammie Jo shook her head.

“Yes.” Her aunts nodded in unison.

She would give anything to see the place of her intrepid mother’s birth, but she was terrified of flying, nervous around strangers, fearful of new situations, scared of wild animals, anxious when she got too far from home and apprehensive about making a fool of herself.

“I can’t.”

“We accepted for you. The plane tickets arrived in today’s mail.” Aunt Kiki handed her an envelope. “You leave tomorrow.”

“I can’t leave tomorrow!”

“Yes you can,” Hildegard interjected. “We already packed your bags. And I had your contact lens prescription renewed.”

“But I don’t like wearing contacts.”

“You need to play up your assets, dear. I even ordered a new color for you to try. Emerald green.”

“I didn’t write the entry because I was husband-hunting. I just want to visit Alaska.”

“And now here’s your chance.” Aunt Kiki winked. “You’re out of school for the summer, you have no excuses.”

“I have to finish my dissertation.”

“Which isn’t due until October.”

Cammie Jo shivered and stuffed her hands into the oversize pockets of her gray, shapeless jumper. “You guys know I’m too shy to travel. Fear kept me from mailing the essay myself.”

“But you want to go, don’t you?” Hildegard coaxed.

In the answer to that question lay the central paradox of Cammie Jo’s life. In spite of her inherent timidity, in spite of her natural reserve around people, in spite of the fact she spent her days cocooned in the cozy academic milieu of a graduate assistant, Cammie Jo longed for adventure. She craved to be brave, but deep inside she was nothing but a bashful wimp.

Her aunts exchanged glances.

“It’s time to tell her,” Aunt Coco said.

“Tell me what?”

“About the treasured wish totem,” Hildegard replied.

“The treasured what?”

Aunt Hildegard nodded at Coco. “You’re right. Fetch the amulet.”

Cammie Jo worried her bottom lip with her teeth while Coco disappeared. After a few minutes she returned with a gray metal lockbox and key.

Aunt Hildegard whispered, “When your mother realized she wasn’t beating cancer, she gave us this necklace, but made us promise not to let you have it until you were mature enough to handle the powerful magic.”

“What magic?” Cammie Jo didn’t understand.

“Open the box,” Hildegard urged. “There’s a letter from your mother.”

Her fingers trembled as she flipped open the lid and stared down at the whalebone necklace resting there. Attached to the bone beads was a hideous totem carving.

“Uh, gee,” Cammie Jo said, overcome with an urge to wash her hands. “It’s…”

“Vulgar. We know. But the totem’s crudeness is beside the point.” Aunt Kiki placed a hand on her shoulder. “Read the letter.”

Cammie Jo unfolded the yellowed notepaper. Her mother’s delicate script jumped out at her.

My dearest darling daughter,

By the time you read my letter many years will have passed since I held you in my arms.

I am passing on to you the only thing of value I have to bestow. The treasured wish totem has magical properties beyond the reasoning mind, but the power is very real. I instructed your aunts not to give you the necklace until you were old enough to know your heart’s desire. Whatever you wish for will come true. But there are conditions. You only get one wish for a lifetime, you must keep the necklace on your person and you must not tell anyone about the secret.

The doctors told your father and I that we could never have children. I wished on the totem for a beautiful, healthy baby, and look what I got!
Think about your wish long and hard, then ask for it. Believe, my darling and the world is yours!

Love forever,

Your Mother.

Blinking back tears, Cammie Jo reread the letter three times. “Omigosh.” She turned the necklace over in her hand. “Omigosh.”

Her mother had worn this odd jewelry, had believed in its peculiar magic. Well, if the necklace worked for Mama, maybe it would work for her. Cammie Jo steeled herself, then slipped the ugly thing over her head.

The totem rested between her breasts and a strange warmness, as if it had been lying in the sun instead of stored in a lockbox for fifteen years, heated her skin through the material of her blouse.

“Should I make my wish now?”

“No!” her aunts exclaimed.

“You must wait,” Hildegard cautioned, “until you know for sure what you want most. Once the wish has been made there’s no going back.”

“Remember, you can’t tell anyone else about the totem or it will defuse the magic.” Aunt Coco shook a finger.

“And don’t forget,” Aunt Kiki admonished. “Be careful what you wish for, because you will get it.”

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