Hiding Paradise

Escaping to paradise isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. 

When her relationship goes irrevocably wrong, Gina is left with only one option–to run and hide. What better way to dodge her seedy ex and haunting past than to take a job on a privately owned island with intense security measures in place?

Protecting people has always been Dugan’s purpose, but even as experienced as he is, the hurricane-ravaged island is proving difficult for him to secure. Carefully constructed puzzles and traps have become chaotic landmines he must defuse before it’s too late. 

When Gina appears as a helping hand ready to team up and restore the island to its former glory, it seems too good to be true. Dugan is drawn to her. He wants to protect her, to love her, and he thinks she feels the same way.

But when her past resurfaces, secrets are revealed and lies are exposed. Can they navigate the dangers of their island home while nurturing their budding romance? Or will Gina leave paradise–and Dugan–behind. 

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Also Available in serial format:

Kindle Vella (Begins episode 130): https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B0BHMP95YT

Chapter One
Woman Overboard


Gina looked wide-eyed at the destruction all around her. This is the paradise I chose as my refuge? What was I thinking?

She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and turned around to the driver of the boat that gave her a ride. “Thank you so much for bringing me out here. The dock looks like the storm hit it pretty badly, but it’s getting shallow. If you can just get me as close to shore as is safe, I will climb down the ladder on the side of your boat and walk to shore through the shallows.”

The kindly older man, Chester, who was the captain of the small ocean vessel she’d rented, furrowed his bushy eyebrows. “Miss, I’m having second thoughts. I agreed to drive you out here, but I can’t, in good conscience, leave you here. Hurricane Karen wrecked this island, and if you get off this boat, you will strand yourself. Listen, I know you really wanted to take a trip out here, but that island isn’t safe. I’m going to take this boat back to the mainland, and I’ll give you a refund. I’m retired and don’t truly need the income. Besides, a few hundred dollars isn’t worth your life.”

Gina panicked. “I can’t go back. I have to get on this island. Today is my first day of work as the island’s chef.”

Chester gently shook his graying head. “I’m sorry, miss. There isn’t anyone here. Whoever you were supposed to work for probably evacuated for the hurricane like everyone else.”

I can’t go back to that life. I have to make this new life work, no matter what. Out of desperation more than determination, she swung a small backpack onto her back, containing all of her life’s possessions. She secured the ponytail holding back her thick brown hair, took off her sunglasses, and cradled them in her right hand. She ungracefully dove her slim body off the side of the boat straight into the clear, sparkling water. She started swimming to shore.

Chester yelled from his boat. “Wait, miss! Where are you going? There are rumors about that island. I never gave them any credence until now. That isn’t the kind of place I want to drop anyone off. Please come back. I’ll take you anywhere else you want to go.”

Gina walked up onto shore, dripping wet. She slid her glasses back on and turned around to wave at Chester. “Thank you again for bringing me to Riley’s Paradise Island. I have it from here.”

Gina thought she heard him say something about crazy women but couldn’t be sure over the waves gently rushing onto the shore. She turned around and walked into the jungle along the largest path she could find leading away from the docks. I need to dry out my bag soon. I only have two changes of clothing, my last forty dollars, and a hairbrush they gave me at the shelter.

Tree limbs covered the path and plants were already growing upright in the middle of the walkway, showing that no one had cared for it in a while. What have I gotten myself into? Maybe Chester was right, I should have gone back with him. If I had anywhere else to go, I would have.

Despite the chaos, the jungle was full of life. Monkeys chattered as they swung through the trees. Birds sang as they flew through the canopy. Insects buzzed as they went about their business of pollinating the plentiful flowers lining her path. There was a beauty to the surrounding disorder that was breathtaking. She had seen nothing quite like it before in her life.

At one point, Gina caught her foot in a simple slipknot animal trap. Odd that it would be right along a main walking path. Whoever set it must not know much about trapping. She didn’t know a ton, but it looked set way too big to catch any local wild game. Gina didn’t think too much of it as she loosened the loop around her foot and reset the trap with a smaller loop as best as she could off the path.

A large tree with a structure attached like a treehouse had fallen across her path. She spotted a can of food lying on the ground and picked it up. She added it to her pack, not sure how she would get it open.

After several hours of circumventing obstacles, she came upon a large Mexican-style hacienda. It was brown with green trim and looked like they’d built it to blend in with the surrounding jungle. A large tree had fallen on the house and crumpled a part of the roof. Looks like I found the owner’s house. I hope they aren’t mad that I’m late. It took me longer to navigate this island than I planned. I was supposed to be at work by nine a.m. today, and it’s already closer to noon.

She took the comb out of her pack and brushed her hair before putting it back into the ponytail. She tried to smooth out her mostly dried clothing, took off her sunglasses, and stashed them in her pack. I wish I had something nicer to wear for my first day of work. I probably look like something the tide brought in.

She made her way to the main entrance. There were two metal lattice doors, one behind the other, that looked like they led into a courtyard of some type. They reminded her of the portcullis gates of a castle. 

To the left of the door, there was a keypad. She tried activating it by touching it, making sure it turned on, but it didn’t respond at all. Great, it’s not working. I wonder what else the storm damaged. Hopefully, the kitchen is still serviceable.

Gina called out through the gate. Hello! Is someone there? It’s me, Gina. I’m here to start work as your chef.”No one answered. Dread filled Gina’s stomach. No one was waiting for her.

What if Chester was right? What if they have evacuated the island? Come to think of it, they would have had no way of alerting me if they left. As soon as I secured this job, I left home and didn’t leave a forwarding number. What have I gotten myself into?

Gina opened her backpack and lay the contents out in the sun to dry. They already smelled musty from being in her pack for so long. She secured the forty dollars under a rock. A lot of good that would do her out in the middle of the jungle.

She made her way back through the forest until she came to the treehouse. I found a can of food here. Maybe more supplies fell out when this tree crashed. Although, why someone would live in a treehouse when there is a giant house nearby, I can’t guess.

After searching for a few hours, she found a can opener and a knife. There was a metal net attached to the bottom of the treehouse, but she couldn’t get it free and didn’t know what she would do with it if she did. She was hoping to find more, but at least she could have a meal before she figured out what to do tomorrow.

Gina used the can opener to open the can of chicken noodle soup. She slurped it down cold from the can. I’m still starving. It has to be close to dinner time by now. What should I do for the night? Gina climbed through the window of the treehouse, lying on the ground. A monkey yelled at her as it scampered out the other window.

She stood up on one wall that was now a floor. It was slightly crumpled where it fell but was otherwise intact. A broken table lay in the corner of the room. Well, I guess this is better than sleeping out in the open.

Gina left to gather her things that were now dry. To her horror and dismay, the forty dollars was gone.

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Their thirst for adventure has turned into a fight to survive… Embark on adventure in this prequel novella featuring beloved characters from Puzzling Through Paradise Series.

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