by R.L. Ugolini
Publication Date: February 3, 2015
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance
Only the desert would know…
Dr. Malcolm Reid goes out on his seismology expeditions alone, and he likes it that way. The fewer warm bodies he’s responsible for bringing home alive, the better.
When the mentorship of a geology grad student is thrust upon him just as he’s leaving for Mexico’s Baja peninsula, he resigns himself to eight weeks of keeping her safe—from ATV-riding cattle rustlers, from a weather-worn mountain lion roaming the hills, and most of all from her accident-prone self.
Jenna Polaski has needed the canyon-sized chip on her shoulder to get ahead in the old boys’ education hierarchy. Now, needing samples to finish her thesis, she has no choice but to serve as the professor’s pack mule. And wonder if his limp is connected to rumors surrounding a long-ago incident that killed one of her predecessors.
Malcolm keeps a sharp eye out as they penetrate deep into the wilderness. But the one danger he forgets to watch for is the one that captures them both—an undeniable attraction that shatters all the rules.
Mal dropped both packs and walked close, leaning a hip against the vertical rock face.
Holding her in his gaze, he tugged at his leather gloves, finally pulling them free and tucking them in his waistband.
“Do you recognize the stratigraphy?”
Her face fell. “Don’t you ever quit? I don’t want another geology lesson, Mal.”
He knew what she wanted, but pretended not to have heard the frustration in her voice.
Mal traced a thin band of rust with his finger. “Notice the layering—”
“For God’s sake. Look around,” she said and waved her arms wide. “This place is amazing. Why does everything have to be about science?”
“That’s what we’re here for—”
“Why can’t we just relax and enjoy the rest of the day?”
“Just pal around? Be friends? Is that what you want, Jenna?” He took a half step closer, crowding her. “Or maybe you’d like me to whisper some more in your ear?”
He watched a slow crimson spread across her cheeks, and he regretted his words. So he hadn’t imagined her reaction back in the scrub. Exhaling, he focused his thoughts on his one comfort. Science.
“These are Cambrian units. This formation occurs in small pockets up and down Baja, but nothing quite like here.” He chanced a glance in her direction.
Her brown eyes had never seemed so large. Or so angry.
His chest tightened. “Do you recall the geologic timescale?”
With a shake of her head, she sighed. “The Cambrian is the oldest period of the Paleozoic era, and is generally agreed to have covered the time span between 570 and 500 million years before present.”
Her rote answer grated. “Jenna.” Caution sharpened his voice.
In the quiet, he could hear her breathe. Shallow, rapid. He watched her chest rise and fall. The generous curve…
No. He swallowed hard. Think science.
But he couldn’t resist tweaking his lesson plan—just for her. “Imagine the swell of warm tides,” he said, “tumbling into shoals.”
A playful smile twitching her lips, she turned her gaze on him. “The swell of warm tides?”
He nodded. “Interwoven in the sandstone are some distinctive units like this one.” His forefinger picked at a thin maroon layer. Warmth flowed from the cliff wall into his palm.
“Beautiful. So smooth—alive.”
“Alive?” Jenna reached out to touch the peach-colored sandstone, her skin blending with the rock. “These units are older than the dinosaurs.”
Mal hid a grin. “You’re correct, of course. But before creatures populated the land, the lush, tropical seas frothed with life.” He pointed to a sequence in the stratigraphy. “Relentless currents of nutrient-rich water ebbed and flowed over soft, fertile beds.”
She leaned against the cliff. “The sea floor must have teemed with plants.” Fire lit her eyes and she continued, “To withstand the powerful force of the tides, they must have had to sink their roots deep, driving them hard until they hit impenetrable rock…”
His heart thudded. “Exactly, Jenna. Colonies of flora and fauna lived, reproduced and died, always straining toward the hot Cambrian sun. For the first time in Earth’s history, predators appeared. They knew what they wanted and they went after it.”
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve taken quite a few trips through the lonesome corners of Baja Mexico. I’ve scaled sandstone sea cliffs, unearthed ammonite fossils, run from rifle-waving landowners, and spent some of the most glorious days I’ve ever lived under the warm Mexican sun.
So much about my time in Baja inspired me to write Quakes, but one particular episode stands out.
We’d been driving all day and into the night when we pulled over to make camp. The ground was soft and sandy, the Pacific ebbing and flowing heavily somewhere close by. Moisture filled the air with a fine mist. There was no moon. Too dark to see anything and too tired to put up tents, we simply crawled inside our sleeping bags and surrendered to dreamless sleep.
When dawn broke, it brought clear skies, warm sun, and mooing. Sometime in the early morning, a herd of cattle had moved in to graze. We were surrounded on all sides by rheumy-eyed, cud-chewing beasts.
Thankfully, the cows were more interested in the grass we’d bedded down on than our persons. As we hastily rolled up our bags and made our way back to our vehicles, we took our bearings. Our makeshift campsite was on pastureland atop a bluff. Far below, the ocean glittered in the morning light, a sea breeze coming off the water. We gathered round a strong pot of coffee and watched fishermen wrestle with their nets. When a friendly goat wandered over, we shared our breakfast.
Everything felt so elemental and so vivid– the wind on our faces, the aroma of black coffee, the mews of cattle. I was there to study the geology of the region, but just then, I knew I would come away with so much more.
R.L. Ugolini studied geology at the California Institute of Technology and has made maps for the US Geological Survey. She’s been in more earthquakes than she cares to remember, has hauled mountains of gear in Baja California and speaks very, very poor Spanish. She lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband.