Can I rescue his heart?
I didn’t think my day would end stuck at the bottom of a cliff with a cute guy like Wyatt.
I’m not complaining.
But he’s fresh out of a relationship, and we’re in danger from the elements.
It’s not right time to even think about anything more than flirtation.
No matter how much I want to put my hands on his body.
By the time we’re safe I know Wyatt better than I know my brothers.
Can what we’ve developed survive outside the shelter of the forest?
Lost and Found is a 65,000 word standalone m/m romance featuring two guys forced together on an adventure who find love along the way.
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Chapter 1 - Eli
“You’re not going out in the dark alone, Eli, We’re calling in the team.” Jacob kicked back in his desk chair, tuned the weather radar with one hand and picked up the phone in the other.
I looked up from the photo in my hand and raised my eyebrows at my boss, alarmed and worried. “Do not call in Larry. You need to stop giving that guy chances. The guy is a total fuck-up.”
Larry, the park supervisor who had been on duty last night, hadn't raised the alarm when a hiker hadn’t checked in at the time he was supposed to. We only knew that the guy was missing because his roommate had called the office in tears, saying that her friend had been missing for thirty-six hours. That was a long time for a hiker to be missing in the woods in need of rescue.
All because Larry hadn’t done his job. Again.
“Yeah, he’s a fuck-up.” Jacob cradled the phone on his shoulder and took a swig of mushroom-infused coffee before he smacked his lips and licked his mustache clean. “But I’m known for helping out fuck-ups, aren’t I?”
I squinted at him, suspecting the playful jab was directed at me. He’d sure helped me out plenty of times. Then again, I was the kind of fuck-up who would forget to shake out my rain jacket or clean off my boots before trudging into the office—not the type to leave a man missing for a full day.
I looked back at the photo of the hiker that the roommate had emailed. Wyatt. I felt my chest tighten when his bright blue eyes looked up at me from under his mop of curly brown hair. There was something special about this guy, and it wasn’t just how handsome he was with those full lips and a strong jaw. Maybe the pull in my heart was my instincts telling me Wyatt needed help now.
“You can cut that out right now.” Jacob pointed at me and the photo.
“What?” I looked up innocently while my cheeks burned, feeling found-out.
“Thinking with your dick isn’t going to find him. Don’t give me that look. Thinking with your heart won’t do us any good either, Superman.”
I scoffed. My heart? Not likely. I hadn't been in a serious relationship for years. Couldn't think of anything worse. While other people dated, I worked. I spent months at a time stationed at the park and spent my time off at home in Washington, DC, with my brothers. A high-risk job and a high-energy family were more than enough to juggle. I had too much going on to give a romantic relationship the attention it deserved. My exes agreed. No one had been able to put up with it for long.
"Dick, heart, forget it." Jacob pointed at me accusingly. “Using either of those is going to get you killed out in the field. Have I taught you nothing? Put that photo down and start thinking with your head!”
I rolled my eyes and slid the photo across the desk. “Yes, Dad.”
I was only teasing, and it made Jacob smirk. I’d never had anyone to call ‘Dad’. I’d had a lot of men come into—and quickly leave—my life through the foster and group homes I’d been in, but never a real father who stuck around. My older brothers, Derek, Sean, and Matt had been parental figures for me when I needed them most, and now Jacob, too, since I’d joined the Parks, but it wasn’t the same.
Jacob sat up straight and adjusted the phone when someone answered on the other end. “Hey, Kieren,” he said. “We need some men down here for a night rescue, and the rain’s coming in strong.”
A gentle whine came from beside me and my Alsatian, Uno, nudged my thigh with her snout. She looked from me to her harness hanging on the wall and back again with a slight wag of her tail. She was as excited as I was to get going.
The rest of the team—except for fuck-up Larry—were all stationed at other parks, all at least an hour away. Jacob cussed and hung up. Even though Jacob would want me to wait for someone else from the team to get here, I had no intention of following those orders. I winked at Uno and gestured for her to grab what she needed from her work crate while I got ready for a night mission into the 20,000 acres of Cumberland State Park.
“Troops are on their way. And I’m not old enough to be your ‘Dad’!” Jacob yelled from the desk while I was in the back, shoving protein bars and dried fruit into the side pockets of the pack.
I scoffed. “How old do you think I am?”
“Thirty-two. Sagittarius, though and through.” He’d made a big deal of my birthdays the last four years I’d been working with him and read my horoscopes out of the paper every day. “How old do you think I am?”
“Old enough to be my dad.” Jacob was nearing his sixties and had a gray ponytail to show for it.
He just grunted in response, the closest to an admission that I’d get out of him.
Uno stood at the doorway of the storeroom with her harness in her mouth and her tail wagging so hard it thwacked against the doorframe. We were both lucky that work often felt like play, at least most of the time. But things could get really, really quick out on the field, and I had a feeling this rescue was going to be more serious than fun.
I was shoving her harness into the pack when I heard the door to the cabin creak open, followed by a muffled conversation between Jacob and whoever had just arrived.
“He only took one meal’s worth of food and a tiny backpack.” A woman’s voice came in from the main room, pinched and broken like she was trying not to cry.
“Do you know the route he took?” Jacob’s voice was gruff and almost accusing, which I knew didn’t reflect how he truly felt. He was a man’s man, not great with emotion, and awkward as hell around women.
“N-no! I told you on the phone, he just said something about a rock?” She sniffled, which was my cue to stick my head out of the storeroom, hoisting the forty-pound pack onto my back with a grunt.
“White Rock?” I clipped the straps to my front while the curvy Latina woman widened her eyes at me. Whether it was because she wasn’t expecting a brown man to be leading a rescue in deep woods Virginia, or because she wasn’t expecting anyone to step out of the storeroom, I couldn’t say. Or maybe I was her type.
“Y-yeah. White Rock? Is that a place?” She sniffed again, tears clinging to her long eyelashes.
“It sure is. Jacob will get a map for you to look at.” I gave Jacob a pointed look as I reached around him and grabbed tissues from his desk drawer.
I offered them to her, the least Jacob could do when a woman was crying. He pointedly ignored me.
She took the tissues with a forced smile. “I’m Helena, Wyatt’s best friend.”
“Eli. I’ll be leading the rescue.”
Jacob grunted again, just loud enough for me to hear and know yet again that he didn’t want me going out alone until the rest of the crew arrived.
Ignoring him, I perched on the edge of the desk and gave all my attention to Helena. Uno did, too, and shoved her snout into Helena’s hand by her hip, demanding pats. “Do you know what kind of equipment he had with him?” I asked.
Helena shook her head and pushed her glasses up her nose. “A small crappy backpack, and probably just enough food for the hike up and back.”
“Any health issues?” I’d need to know if there were any extra medical supplies I’d need to take in the pack, or if there was a reason he might have wandered off into the woods, or fallen off the edge…
“Does a broken heart count?” She sighed and scratched Uno’s ruff, making the pup sigh happily.
“Bad break-up?” My heart twitched at the idea that the good-looking guy in the photo was now single, and I could practically hear Jacob scolding me from the depths of my subconscious for not thinking with my head.
But there was another, less selfish reason why it mattered that Wyatt might have been upset—White Rock Point had a big drop to the bottom, and suicide attempts had been made there in the past. Some successful. “Yeah, pretty bad. His boyfriend cheated on him. He came out here to clear his head. Shit.” Helena dabbed her eyes again. “I was the one who suggested it. I thought some nature would be good for him.”
“How upset was he?” Jacob's voice was a little softer but still had a sharp edge to it.
I made a mental note to force him into some compassionate communication training.
Helena looked up and then widened her eyes when she understood what he was really asking. “Oh! He’d never hurt himself. He’s not depressed, he just needed to clear his head.”
Jacob grunted again and pushed the topographical map across the desk and stabbed at the trailhead. “White Rock.”
“Thank you, Jacob.” I took the map, and without a word, he went back to tuning into the weather radar and coordinating the team coming in from the other parks.
“This is the trail you said he was on, White Rock?” I showed the map to Helena.
She sniffled and shrugged. “I think so. He’d done the hike lots of times before, he loves this park. We live in DC, but he’s always out here when he can get away from work.”
The way to White Rock wasn’t a particularly treacherous route, about a six-mile trek one way out to the summit, but it was rocky and ended in a sheer drop-off at the lookout. The trail was steep going and took amateurs around eight hours on a round trip, maybe longer at that time of year with the mud from the steady rainfall.
Jacob made a concerned noise as he watched the weather radar and I glanced back to spot storm clouds rolling in on the screen. Shit. It was going to be wet.
“Is there anything I can do?” Helena balled her tissue in her hand. “I want to go out there with you, I know Wyatt better than anyone, maybe I could—”
I shook my head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea—”
“Absolutely not.” Jacob was so snappy that Helena sat bolt upright like she was getting in trouble at school. He softened and rubbed his face while not looking at her. “You can trust Eli to take care of it. He’ll find your friend.”
Helena sized me up. She dragged her eyes over my frame. I was nudging six-foot and built to scale mountains. Not that I believed my physical strength had anything to do with my success as a Search and Rescue crewman. Willpower and determination were what it took. I never gave up.
She must have decided my physique was enough because she sat back in the chair and nodded. “Do I just wait here, then?”
Jacob half-coughed and half-choked. He was probably horrified at the idea of having to cozy up in the office with a woman he didn’t know.
I hopped off the desk and put a hand on Helena’s shoulder, hoping to comfort her. “Best for you to go home and get some rest if you can. Once we find Wyatt, he might need lots of support.”
“Of course. Right. Okay. Food?” She looked up at me and half-smiled.
“Absolutely. It’s the best medicine, right?” I smiled, but my gut was telling me I needed to get out into the woods now if I had any chance of getting Wyatt back alive.
Jacob groaned as he looked at the weather. “No chopper, Eli. The wind is coming in hard and strong.”
I winced and cursed under my breath, then hurried into the back to get a spare rain jacket. When I came back, Helena was at the door, about to leave. She looked at me with a tremble in her chin. “Por favor, sálvalo.”
I grimaced and rubbed the back of my neck. “Sorry, I don’t speak Spanish.”
“Oh!” She raised her eyebrows.
I looked away before she could give me the same sympathetic look everyone gave me when I revealed that I’d lost contact with my culture. I needed to go.
“Uno, let’s go.” I clicked my fingers and the Alsatian was at my side in an instant, ears up, tail up, and ready to go.
Jacob nodded to me on my way out, and I paused at the door to lean in close to Helena and squeeze her shoulder.
“We’ll bring him back.” I looked her deep in the eyes and made a vow. “I always get my man.”
Jacob groaned at the innuendo, but Helena smiled like she was genuinely reassured and confident that I'd find Wyatt.
As I pushed outside into the dark, rainy night, I just prayed we weren't already too late.
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