Never in my life have I experienced a ride like this one and it’s both terrifying and exhilarating, all at once. The road stretches along the side of a lush green mountain, and one wrong move or turn of the steering wheel will send us flying over the edge of a cliff and straight into what I can only assume is a canyon. I grip the handle above my head with both hands, my butt literally lifting away from the seat with every bump and rut he drives across. Max is laughing, I’m screaming and laughing at the same time, and I close my eyes when I feel the back wheels scramble to grip the road when he makes an extra-sharp turn.
I’ve never been the praying sort, but this experience is making me whisper all sorts of promises to God as long as we make it out of here in one piece.
When he finally brings the Jeep to a full stop, he murmurs, “Open your eyes, princess.”
Slowly I open them, all the air escaping my lungs when I see what’s in front of us. A view of the ocean unlike anything I’ve witnessed before. Nothing but blue skies dotted with white, puffy clouds and the glittering Pacific spread out before us.
“What do you think?”
I don’t take my eyes off the ocean. It’s as if we’re hanging right on the edge of the earth—which we might be for all I know. “It’s beautiful,” I murmur. “How did you know about this place?”
“I asked around, talked to some locals.” He touches me and I turn to look at him, pressing my lips together when he runs his index finger down the length of my arm. “Come on, I have more to show you.”
He hops out of the Jeep before I can say another word, rounding the vehicle and opening the door for me like a gentleman. I take his offered hand and exit the Jeep, letting him escort me along the gravelly dirt road until we find a rough path that leads straight down the cliff.
“Uh, are we really going to try and walk that?” I ask cautiously, tugging on his hand to make him stop.
He turns to look at me, his brows lowered. “It doesn’t look that bad.”
I hold out my foot toward him, my sandal dangling away from my heel. “I’m in flip-flops.”
Max laughs and shakes his head. “I’ll pick you up and carry you the rest of the way if you can’t handle it.”
“Oh, I can handle it.” I lift my chin, not one to back down from a challenge.
And neither is he. His eyes sparkle as he looks me up and down, probably silently mocking my choice of pristine white shorts for a trek through the Hawaiian jungle. How was I supposed to know what he had planned for us? “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go.”
The problem is that after a while, I really can’t handle it. At least, my shoes can’t. They slip and skid over the steep, rocky terrain and a couple of times, I lose an entire shoe, the flip-flop flying down the trail, rescued by my watcher. Twice I stumble, thankful Max is directly in front of me so I can brace my fall by gripping his solid back or tugging on his shirt. The path curves sharply, going deeper and deeper into the lush, thick trees and bushes, and I hear things move among the branches, see birds flying away with squawks of surprise when we come upon them.
I just know there are unknown critters everywhere, studying us. I hope there aren’t snakes, or other creatures with poisonous fangs. God, what if a bird gets pissed off and attacks our heads? Does that sort of thing actually happen?
“I can practically smell your fear, princess. Don’t worry, nothing’s going to get you,” he says teasingly.
I glare at his back. He has a really nice back, too, broad and strong, the skin smooth and warm. I hope he takes his shirt off soon. “What about snakes?”
“From what I’ve learned, there are no snakes native to the Hawaiian Islands,” he answers.
I follow after him for a bit, pondering what he said. “What about snakes that were brought here?”
“Yeah, there are probably a few of those.”
Max turns when he realizes I’m not following him, resting his hands on his hips as he squints up at me. He’s not wearing sunglasses and the sun shines right in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“What if there really are snakes on this trail?” I ask him.
“I already told you there’s nothing to worry about.”
“But … snakes.” I throw my hands up into the air, not sure I can explain to him how much they scare me without sounding like a complete loser.
“Are you telling me you’re afraid of snakes? A badass like yourself?” He raises his brows in question.
“I am so not a badass.” I roll my eyes.
“You have to admit, you kind of are.”
I shake my head, pleased that he thinks I am. “You’re the one who calls me ‘princess.’ ”
“That’s because you’re pretty as a princess.” He starts to approach, my gaze dropping to his legs as he makes the trek back up the steep incline, his calf muscles straining as he walks. Since when are calf muscles so sexy? I sort of want to fan myself just staring at them. “And you’re also feisty. Like a badass princess.”
I start to laugh as he stops in front of me, his hands going to my waist, his fingers pressing into my skin. “You want me to keep all the snakes away, baby girl?”
His words, the tone of his voice, the way his fingers slip beneath the hem of my tank top and touch my bare skin, send me reeling. “I really, really hate snakes. I can’t stress it enough.”
“I’ll save you.” He releases his hold on me and turns around, bending forward the slightest bit and holding his arms out away from his body. “Hop on.”