Pursuit of the Pudú

Desert Island Diaries, Book 2

Pursuit of the Pudú (Caza del Ciervo Pudú) – Inspirational YA Romantic Adventure. Even as Melissa and Nicolás fall in love, everything else in their lives falls apart. While on a church youth-group trip to Chile, Melissa Travis, now 18, re-encounters her special friend, Nicolás Serrano. The earlier sparks between them soon burst into blaze, but old nemesis Delicia’s outrageous accusations pour cold water on their growing relationship. As Delicia stalks Nicolás, and his brother Marcos searches for a rare species of deer with the dubious aid of a thief with terrorist ties, Melissa ponders whether she should give up on a future with Nicolás. Trapped in the wilderness, they all must face crucial decisions about what is worth pursuing.

Chapter 1

June 4, 1993 – Mellehue, Grand Chiloé Island

The moment I glimpsed Nicolás Serrano on the soccer field, I suspected I was in danger. And when he spun his head and looked at me as I squeezed into the crowded bleachers, I knew it for sure.

What if this whole thing was a mistake? Maybe I shouldn’t have come back to the Chiloé Islands right now. A mission trip is designed to challenge you, inspire you, not mess up your life. It’s meant to touch your heart, not break it.

I’d only just landed from the States and barely touched bases with my sister and her family. So why was I perched on the edge of my seat with a racing pulse? Why was I holding my breath at an inconsequential soccer match in a third-world fishing village? I should have the sense not to harbor even a passing thought about a guy from another universe.

Blame it on raw emotions—after all, I’d just ended one relationship gone sour. But no way did I intend this summer mission project in the backwaters of Chile to morph into some sort of spring break fling. It wasn’t supposed to get complicated.

But here he was again, the island boy who’d haunted my dreams since my visit here three years. Now in the flesh in front of me, he sprinted down the playing field, fleet as a deer, solid and real and more devastatingly handsome than I remembered. All this time, I’d compared every other guy in the world with Nicolás Serrano.

What made his memory shine so unrivaled? At eighteen, wasn’t I too old now for an adolescent crush? Surely time and distance had blown my obsession out of all rational proportion. Or was he the most amazing guy I’d ever met? Nicolás, the Dolphin-Boy, had once been my best friend.

A referee’s whistle screeched. From a bench four rows up in the half-moon stands, I craned to see who would make the free kick for the home team. The field blazed a dazzling emerald, streaked with black and white jerseys. I knew so many of the players from my stint at the local school, this felt like a homecoming game. “Looks like they’ve designated Nicolás,” I said.

“No big surprise there.” My Chilean girlfriend, Miriam Barrientos, had dragged me out to the stadium before I’d even unpacked. She elbowed me and winked. “And don’t think I haven’t noticed you gawking.”

Heat slid up my neck. True enough, Nicolás had riveted my attention since we’d arrived at the start of the second period, but I’d hoped it wasn’t so obvious. I pretended to ignore her not-so-subtle ribbing. “It’s great to be back, Miri. Mellehue versus Castro, it’s a Saturday classic—”

One of the opposition players headed off Nicolás’s shot on net. Out of control, the ball blasted toward the bleachers, hurtling straight at me. I flung out my arms. Air whooshed out of my lungs as I trapped it against my chest.

I lurched to my feet to toss the ball back onto the field, but in an instant, Nicolás himself bounded up the benches to retrieve it. Our eyes met. Mutual recognition…and something more. The throng of people around us blurred.

Flashing a roguish smile, he scooped the ball from me and tucked it under his arm, lifted my hand, and kissed the back of it. “Welcome home to Chiloé, Melissa Travis.”

“Some welcome.”

“See you’re still on your fútbol toes, though.” He whirled and vaulted back to the ground.

“Well, well.” Miriam leaned back. Even slouching, she was half a head taller than me. “Didn’t take you two long to pick up where you left off.”

I bit my lip and rubbed my breastbone. Gonna have a bruise there. “Guess he hasn’t forgotten me.” During the seven months I’d spent here before, I’d fallen in love with this last corner of the earth, as they called it. I’d never forget Chiloé. But I could hardly expect that my time here had impacted my Chilote friends as much as it had me.

“You think anybody’s forgotten you?” Miriam shook her mane of pencil-straight hair. “Not likely, considering the avalanche of greetings this afternoon.”

“It’s just, no one’s written much lately.” Miriam, loyal as an old nanny, had kept up, but I hadn’t heard from Nicolás in six months. We’d corresponded often—for a while, every week—those first couple of years. His last letter, no more than a note scribbled inside a Christmas card, mentioned his grandmother Luisa’s death, his high school graduation, and his new job with our classmate Delicia’s father. That was all…

“Sorry, we’re terrible about writing,” Miriam said. “But everybody remembers you. And you haven’t changed much.”

“I hope that’s not true.” Everything was different for me now, everything. I never wanted to go back to who I was before.

Pursuit of the Pudú… Just Out February 2024