Outwitting Paradise

Paradise is perilous.

Brianna just wanted a little adventure to spice up her life, but she ends up with far more than she bargained for. Stranded on an island brimming with intrigue and littered with dangerous traps, her best chance at survival may be the very thing that leads to her demise. 

Nathan may be considered as eccentric–cryptic, even–but that is nothing compared to the enigma that is Briana. When he allowed her to remain on his private island as his daughter’s governess, he never imagined she’d fill the vacant space in his heart as well. 

On an island teeming with dangerous traps, deadly puzzles, and menacing riddles, can Brianna find the adventure and romance of a lifetime with Nathan? Or will the fatal challenges rip her away from the man, island, and life she loves?

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Chapter 1
Shipwrecked in Paradise

I hate paradise.

Brianna collapsed on the beach and coughed up sea water. She lay in the sand for a few minutes facing a dense, dark green jungle, thick with vines and colorful flowers. This island looked so inviting when she was safe on the shores of the mainland. An unintended swim-for-your- life could really change one’s perspective. I should have gone for the hotel’s facial instead of this do-it-yourself seashore scrub.

In disgust, she picked seaweed out of her sandy brown hair as she sat up. She turned around to gaze into the crystal blue water but couldn’t see any sign of her little boat anywhere. In fact, there were no boats in sight at all.

She took stock of what she had on herself. Her phone and purse were probably at the bottom of the sea by now. Her wet clothing clung to her slightly plump bottom and voluptuous chest. She checked her pockets: a hair tie, a soggy receipt, and a quarter she had found lying on the pier.

Great. How am I going to get back to the mainland now? She couldn’t swim back to shore after a three-hour boat ride. She had barely made it from her sinking motor boat to this island.

Well, it isn’t too far from land. Boats are bound to come by here frequently. Deciding on building a signal fire, Brianna walked around the beach looking for driftwood. Her clothing dried in the sun as she found a few small pieces of wood. There was enough to cook a meal or provide a little heat at night, but not enough that anyone on shore would notice.

After taking off her wet shoes to dry in the sun, she built a small teepee out of the firewood she’d found. Without a lighter, Brianna tried rubbing two sticks together beside her newly made fire pit, just like she had seen in the movies. After about twenty minutes of rubbing blisters on her hands, she gave up.

Maybe I need a change of plans. What would someone on one of those wilderness survival shows use to survive for a few days? Fresh water and food should be my first steps. Brianna looked over at the jungle and a shiver ran down her back. It looked more foreboding than inviting.

She ventured in but decided to not stray too far from her landing spot. She now considered this her campsite, even though the only thing that marked it was a few pathetic pieces of driftwood in a small pile.

I should probably figure out how to make a shelter too. Her fingers itched for her phone to look up how-to videos. She would just have to do her best on her own. Her survival depended on it.

Standing on the threshold of the jungle, she spoke aloud, “God, thank you so much for saving me from the water. Please help me get rescued and not bitten by poisonous snakes. Amen.” Feeling braver, she spotted a small path in the dense undergrowth.

Don’t jungles usually grow really fast? I wonder if this path is well-traveled by animals… or humans. Brianna confidently took a step forward, and immediately, her foot got stuck.

Upon closer inspection, she noticed her foot was caught in a small snare. It was a loop of metal covered in a type of soft rubber, potentially to protect the foot of whatever trapper had set it. A few monkeys chattered at her from a nearby tree.

Feeling frustrated and alone, Brianna shouted, “’You spend too much time at home,’ my roommate said. ‘Go enjoy your time on Florida’s sunny beaches and meet people,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you go for a relaxing boat ride and enjoy the sun?’ Well, news flash, Mavis, this is not relaxing!”

She had to admit, life was feeling a little stagnant at home. After graduating from college, Brianna didn’t have a direction. Her life wasn’t really going anywhere. She needed a change… a goal… a challenge.

She had signed up as a vendor for a crab-themed fair, but not because she loved crabs. She used the excuse that she wanted to sell her handmade glass figurines at the small beach community festival. There was no logical reason she had to travel all the way to the beach to do so, but she wanted a change of scenery, and her best friend had encouraged her to go.

Mavis was always adventurous and getting into trouble, laughing all the way. She was moving in with her boyfriend and leaving Brianna behind. Brianna had found herself feeling jealous and abandoned. She’d wanted some adventure in her life too. This, however, was not what she had in mind.

Brianna kneeled down and examined the small noose around her foot. It was a pretty simple design. She yanked on her foot and the loop tightened. With nothing to cut it with, she fiddled with the metal mechanism behind the loop. Eventually, she realized that if she pushed up on it while holding it taut, then she could loosen the loop and release her foot.

Well, I will definitely need to keep an eye out for more animal snares. I wonder if the owner of the island is illegally trapping and shipping exotic animals for pets? She had seen a movie where they did that. It would explain why the owner of the island took extra care to make sure the trap didn’t injure its target.

Brianna moved the trap out of the way and then reset it. Maybe she could catch something for dinner.

Her arms were sore from moving logs to make a giant arrow towards her camp. She pulled out some of the undergrowth and tried to make her path back to the beach very obvious. The last thing she needed was to get lost. She gingerly made her way a few more yards, scratching her face on a low-hanging branch. There, she found another snare. Brianna stepped around until she heard the beautiful babble of moving water.

The sound led her to a six-foot-deep, steep ravine with a three-foot-wide stream in the middle. Brianna looked at the water, perplexed. She needed that fresh water, but she couldn’t tell how deep it was. There was no way she was going to jump down there. She wouldn’t be able to get back out. One near-drowning experience was enough for one trip.

Looking around in the dense jungle behind her, she finally found a long log. Maybe if she pushed a log over the edge of the ravine, she could use it as a ladder to get down to the water and back up again. Although, the next problem would be carrying water. Perhaps I could use a large leaf and secure the top with the hair-tie in my pocket.

She was glad to have a plan, even if it was shaky. She searched around for a dead log that looked sturdy enough to hold her weight and found a large branch that had fallen off a tree and was maybe five feet long. It was a bit on the small side of what she was looking for, but after pushing and heaving for ten minutes, she wasn’t sure she would have been able to move anything much bigger.

Heaving with all her might, she pushed the large branch up to the edge of the ravine and broke off any smaller parts of the branch that might scratch her while she climbed. She pushed it over the edge, trying to control its descent to stay close to the side of the ravine. Her goal was to get it stuck in the mud at the bottom. She hoped it would still be long enough to span most of the mud walls surrounding the stream.

It was almost perfectly in place when she laid on her stomach and leaned over the edge to get into a better position for pushing it deeper into the mud. To her horror, the strong current caught the bottom of the log and pulled it downstream. The rest of the log soon followed with a splash and disappeared.

In frustration, Brianna got up and kicked a pile of mud into the stream. The mud went flying, but it had covered a rock that hurt her big toe, despite the tennis shoes she wore. With a yelp, she examined her toe and wiggled it back and forth to make sure no bones had broken. She didn’t know how long she would be there. She had to be smart and not let her emotions get the best of her.

Walking the length of the stream, she hoped she would come across an area where the gorge was shallow enough or receded gradually enough that she could reach the water. After walking for about fifteen minutes, fighting her way through an overgrown path, she found a weird bucket contraption by the side of the gully.

Someone had locked a bucket to a large timber pole that dangled over the ravine. The pole had a metal chain that extended from the top to the bucket. It looked almost like a giant fishing pole except for the golden box in front of it that was decorated with a pattern of intricate flowers.

How in the world did this get out in the jungle? Who would take the time to build such a thing when a simple bucket on a rope would have sufficed? Brianna didn’t have any answers, but this contraption showed one thing. People. Maybe she wasn’t alone on the island after all.

Brianna took a few moments to examine the flowers. She realized one of the ceramic tiles on top of the golden box was missing, and the other tiles could move up and down into the missing tile space.

It’s a puzzle. A sliding tile puzzle. How odd.

Manipulating the tiles into different configurations showed she could combine the partial flowers to create full flowers.

She felt a little ridiculous doing the puzzle. She was alone in the middle of the jungle, fighting for her survival… but the puzzle was close to completion. When she slid the last tile into place, the golden box looked beautiful covered with sophisticated flowers. She then heard a soft popping sound, and a small drawer materialized from the bottom of the box.

Her fingers grasped the key that lay in the drawer and used it to unlock the aluminum bucket from the chain. “All right, this is odd,” she said aloud. “Who does this guy think is going to steal his bucket? The parrots?”

Water dribbled down her chin as Brianna took a drink of refreshing, clean water, hoping there was nothing in it that would make her sick. She returned the key out of an organizational habit more than worrying about needing it again. After a few attempts, Brianna gave up trying to make a leaf into a water canteen. She unhooked the bucket from the chain and used it to take some fresh water back to her camp with her.

Brianna looked around and realized that the trees seemed to throw off longer shadows than before. She made her way back to her camp to make a lean-to. She didn’t know how much time she would have before it got dark.

Brianna carefully retraced her steps, leaving the snares untouched. She collected wood along the path, keeping an eye out for the arrow pointing to her new ‘home’.

Sadly, Brianna noted the snares were empty when she walked past them. She had seen lots of little critters scampering around the surrounding jungle. Upon reflection, the snares seemed set for a much larger animal than a capybara or lemur.

I sure hope they didn’t set it for a predator like a bear or something.

As she reached her part of the beach, she saw the sun was lying heavily on the horizon. Brianna found a Y-shaped tree on the edge of the jungle and set her largest log into the crook of it. Then she leaned the rest of her sticks against the spine of her lean-to and dug the other ends into the sand to make sure they stayed put. She covered it in dirt and leaves to make sure no water could get in while she slept. It was dirty and small, and she was cramped, but for tonight, it was home.

Sitting in the sand next to her lean-to, she watched the fading light. It unfolded into a beautiful array of orange, yellow, and red on the horizon. Now that she had stopped moving, her stomach growled. She had packed a lunch to eat on this very shore. It was sitting at the bottom of the ocean now. She hoped at least the fish were enjoying it.

A few small white crabs peeked out of their holes in the sand and scampered around, looking for their dinner. Was she hungry enough to eat a crab raw? Not yet. She really wished she had a way to light the small pile of logs in front of her. It would bring her comfort, even if it wasn’t the best beacon.

Eventually, Brianna succumbed to exhaustion. She crawled into her lean-to as her eyes tried adjusting to the lack of light. She couldn’t help imagining bugs crawling around her in the darkness. It made her itch all over. It had to be better than sleeping out on the sand with crabs crawling over her, right? In the darkness, she wasn’t too sure anymore.

Surely the owners of the boat she rented would come looking for her when she didn’t return it? On second thought, those fellows didn’t look like the most reliable pair. Nor, apparently, did they rent out the most reliable boats. At least when she didn’t reach out to her best friend and soon-to-be ex-roommate, she would come looking for her. Mavis was the one who had encouraged her to visit the enticing island when they had talked on the phone. Eventually, she would find her, right? She just had to survive a few days.

One thing was for sure, she needed to focus on finding something to eat tomorrow so she could keep her strength until rescue came. She listened to the night calls of the jungle as her exhausted body finally gave in to slumber.

Drifting off to sleep, Brianna imagined she heard the footsteps of an enormous creature around her lean-to. She was startled awake by a deep growl that made the hair on her arms stand up. It took her a few minutes to gain the courage to peek outside. When she finally did, she saw nothing out of the ordinary, but the cloudy nighttime sky left it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of her. Maybe it was a dream? There was no threat… for now.

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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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