by Kate Douglas
This was an unexpected treat! It was my first book by Kate Douglas, and after reading it I want to read every other book she's written. It was that good!
Alexandria "Alex" Martin is a young photographer with a troubled past. Her mother died during childbirth, and her father left her in the care of family friends. Now a young woman, she has only seen her father sporadically over the last few years. Earlier in life, when she was still trying to please her father, and eager to earn his love, she assisted him on several of his own photo shoots. Taking credit for his daughter's work, he went on to receive a Pulitzer Prize. This painful event, coupled with a recent bad breakup, has left Alex guarded toward men and fiercely independent. Moreover, her issues surrounding trust have spilled over into her career.
Even though she longs for nature and field work, Alex has opened a photography studio where she shoots weddings and portraits of babies--far from her dream job! But she has to make a living, and feels that, as a woman, she has never been given a proper chance to showcase her talents. So, when a UC Berkeley professor contacts the studio to hire Alex Martin for a six week field assignment, she happily accepts! Of course, he believes he is hiring the elder Alex Martin (the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer)! Alex prepares for the shoot with the goal of proving herself capable of handling the job, and demonstrating her talents in the field.
Imagining a "cartoon image of a cute little professor", Alex is shocked when the antiquities professor, Nathan "Nate" Murdock, turns out to be a tall, gorgeous hunk with hazel eyes, shoulder-length auburn hair, and muscles to die for! Likewise, thinking he has hired the elder Alex Martin, Nate is stunned (and a bit angry) with the apparent mixup. Still, he is instantly attracted to Alex's exotic beauty and independence. So, after a rocky start, and some verbal sparring, they agree to work together out of contractual obligation.
Deep in a relatively untouched forested region of Northern California, Nate shares with Alex his discovery of an obscure legend of a mysterious people, known as Spirit Walkers, who (according to legend) lived in the region before the indigenous tribes. Further, he has discovered petroglyphs hidden high upon a mountain, similar to those found within the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, and just as peculiar.
After an arduous climb, Nate and Alex go about photographing the petroglyphs and taking samples. The first day goes well, and much is accomplished. However, on the second day, as they are exploring the opposite side of the mountain, they have an unfortunate encounter with drug smugglers. And after the smugglers foolishly shoot their guns inside a cave in the mountain, and narrowly escape being crushed by a rockslide, Alex and Nate are left trapped inside the cave. What they discover next can only be described as magical.
Tunnels, cliffs, waterfalls, and strands of purple and blue from glowworms illuminate the innermost passageways, creating an otherworldly experience. And of course, they may not be the only inhabitants in this magical world! With all its seduction, the world is taking on a new pace, where time is concerned. And like a hypnotic vortex, it may lead them to new depths... but going home may no longer be an option.
Every word, image, and element of the story flows off the pages with such beauty and significance it is breathtaking. And the romantic scenes are by far some of the most well written and original scenes I've read in years! Nothing is contrived. And the alluring tranquility of the cave, combined with the enchanting elements of the story, create a spellbinding journey with just the right dose of unexpected twists and turns! Every aspect of this story is fresh and original. And I loved every minute of it!
Reviewed by Stephanie