Girl in the Wild

Girl in the Wild
This title was previously published as How I Learned to Love the Walrus

When Los Angeles publicist Sydney Green convinces her boss to let her produce a documentary for the Save the Walrus Foundation, the only thing she is really interested in saving is herself. Sydney sees the walrus as merely a means to improving her career and her love life—and not necessarily in that order. For any other client Sydney would’ve killed the project the second she learned she’d be the one having to spend a month in rural Alaska, but for rising star and sometimes boyfriend Blake McKinley, no sacrifice is ever too great.

Yet, a funny thing happens on the way to the Arctic. A gregarious walrus pup, a cantankerous scientist, an Australian sex goddess, a Star Wars obsessed six-year-old, and friends and nemeses both past and present rock Sydney Green’s well-ordered world. Soon Sydney is forced to choose between doing what’s easy and doing what’s right.

Girl in the Wild is a bright, comical tale of ambition, romance…and walruses.


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Chapter One

The wind picked up, and the sky turned gray as our skiff approached the small green island partially shrouded in fog. The right side sloped gradually toward the steely blue chop of Bristol Bay, while the left side ended abruptly in a steep, jagged cliff.

As the distance closed, I caught my first glimpse of wildlife—pink and brown blobs strewn across the beach.

“Should I get my binoculars?” I asked.

“Don’t bother,” the captain, cloaked from head to toe in orange rubber, shouted over the roar of the boat’s engine. “You’ll have plenty of chances on the island.”

Then the wind shifted, and I was struck by a stench so overpowering—think rotting garbage on a hot summer day—I felt the bile rise up in my throat. I swallowed hard and forced it down.

“Oh my God,” I said, trying not to breathe. “What’s that smell?”

Captain Bailey smiled as he watched me coil my scarf around my nose and mouth, allowing the chill wind to whip my hair across my face.

“Doesn’t it bother you?” I asked, my voice muffled by layers of faux cashmere.

He shrugged. “You get used to it.”

I doubted that.

As we began to close in on the island I was able to distinguish the edges of the blobs littering the shore. The pointy white tusks provided a sharp contrast to otherwise shapeless bodies. Packed side by side and on top of one another like a giant can of two-thousand-pound sardines were hundreds and hundreds of walruses.

I stayed quiet, opening my mouth only to breathe, while Captain Bailey maneuvered the skiff inside the rocky cove. But once he cut the engine, “Excuse me, but—“

“Shhhh!” Captain Bailey turned and glared at me. “Keep your voice down.”

“Why?” I whispered.

He nodded toward the walruses as he guided the anchor over the side of the boat, the metal chain silently slipping through his fingers before dropping into the sea. “So we don’t disturb them.”

I turned back to the walruses. They were rolling on top of one another, grunting and bellowing and barking so loud I could’ve screamed at the top of my lungs and they still would’ve drowned me out. But I didn’t argue. I’d been in Alaska for less than twenty-four hours, and I’d already learned it was better just to do what the locals tell you than attempt to get them to explain. We may not be the friendliest people in the lower forty-eight, but they could be downright nasty up here in the forty-ninth state. Yet there was still one question I had to ask.

“Okay, but—“

Captain Bailey glared at me again and brought one orange-gloved finger to his lips.

“Sorry,” I whispered, “but how am I supposed to get to shore?” He’d anchored us at least forty feet from the beach. It’s not like I could swim there in a long wool coat.

“You got boots, don’t you?” he asked, nodding to my luggage stacked end to end along the boat’s perimeter.

I did. Although I can’t say that I understood how my new suede “Alaska Boots” with lace-up calves and fur trim were going to help me get past forty feet of churning water and a bunch of smelly walruses with extremely sharp tusks, but I shoved my feet into them anyway.

Captain Bailey was busy tinkering with his instruments when I spotted the lone figure hurrying down the open metal staircase clinging to the side of the cliff.

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing toward the island.

But Captain Bailey just stared open-mouthed at my feet. “What the hell are those supposed to be?”

I followed his gaze downward. “My boots.”

“And how do you expect to get across the water in those things?” he asked, hands on his hips and shaking his head.

I put my hands on my hips too, but my five-four frame wasn’t nearly as intimidating as his six-plus feet of solid muscle, even if I was dressed in all black and he looked like a giant orange popsicle. “What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to ask you for the last ten minutes?”

He mumbled something I couldn’t hear (and probably didn’t want to) as he stomped across the aluminum deck to a small metal box mounted at the other end. “Put these on,” he said, as he tossed me a pair of knee-high galoshes.

They were hideous, but at least they were black and matched my outfit. And since they were four sizes too big for me, I had no trouble slipping them on over my own boots with plenty of room to spare.

While Captain Bailey and I had been arguing, the lone figure had cleared the stairs and was now expertly navigating the wet rocks. The woman in the navy rain jacket and matching puckered pants stopped at the end of a group of boulders that jutted out into the water to form a natural jetty. “You must be Sydney,” she called.

With her legs apart and her hands cinched at her waist, she looked like a female Jack LaLanne about to launch into an energetic set of jumping jacks. “Yes, I’m Sydney Green.”

“Jill Landers,” she replied. “Welcome to Wilde Island.”