The thing was, it’d been good the other night in the tent. Real good. But it was even better now—which made no sense. Neither was the way she could almost forget all her problems when he had his mouth on her. And what had begun as an irritating interruption quickly escalated into a heated frenzy, his body colliding with hers in all the right places. She was panting for air when he abruptly broke the kiss with a muttered oath and answered his radio.
She hadn’t even heard the interruption.
“I have to go,” he said, his breathing still a little ragged.
Nodding, she touched her wet mouth. “Yeah.”
His gaze dropped to her lips, and his eyes heated again. He didn’t want to go. He wanted her. Not that he’d ever made a secret of it, but the knowledge gave her a disturbingly warm glow.
“So we’re good?” he asked.
Good covered way too much ground. “You’ve got to go, remember?”
“Bye.” Stepping backward into her apartment, she shut the door. Then stared at it. He was still standing there on the other side, she could feel him.
“I’m going to take that as a yes,” he said through the wood.
She let out a startled laugh, then clapped a hand over her mouth. Hell no, they weren’t good. Not when he’d just proven what she’d already known—they were so far beyond good it was scary. They were combustible.
But she knew the power of it now, she assured herself. And it was okay because all she had to do was stay clear.
Which was going to be a little bit like trying to keep a moth from the flame.
Chocolate is not a matter of life and death—it’s more important than that.
Matt spent a few mornings a week in the gym, usually in the ring with Ty Garrison. This morning they were doing their usual beat-the-shit-out-of-each-other routine. He ducked Ty’s left hook, feeling pretty damn smug for one solid beat—until Ty snuck a right uppercut to his gut.
Matt hit the floor with a wheeze, and then it was Ty’s turn to be smug. “Gotcha.”
Hell, no. They’d been at it for thirty minutes, and Matt was exhausted to the bone, but the last one down had to buy breakfast. Kicking out, he knocked Ty’s feet from beneath him. Then it was Ty’s turn to land with a satisfying thud.
“Jesus,” Josh muttered from the weight bench.
Josh was also a good friend, but he didn’t know much about having fun. He was a doctor, which left his taste for occasional recreational violence greatly diminished.
“You keep going at each other like that,” Josh said, “and you’ll end up in my ER.”
Breathless, Matt rolled to his back. “Sorry, I only play doctor with the ladies.”
Josh snorted and kept lifting. In Josh’s opinion, weights were much more civilized.
Matt swiped the sweat off his forehead with his arm, keeping a close eye on Ty, a formidable opponent, as Matt knew all too well. They’d been in the Navy together. Matt had left after four years of service and gone to Chicago.
Ty had gone on to the SEALs. He wasn’t someone to mess with lightly so Matt stayed back and gave him a careful nudge with his foot. Actually, it might have been more of a kick, but he knew better than to turn his back.
Josh stopped lifting. “At least check him for a pulse.”
Matt poked Ty again. “Not falling for the dead possum shit, man.”
“I’ve got an adrenaline pin I can stick him with,” Josh said mildly. “Hurts like hell going in, but it should wake him right up.”
“Come near me with a needle,” Ty grumbled, “and you’ll be the one who needs medical attention.” He groaned and rolled over, eyeing Matt. “And that was a total pussy move.”
“Yeah? Who’s flat on his back?”
Ty swore and laid an arm over his eyes, still breathing heavily.
Matt collapsed back to the ground himself. He felt like he’d been hit by a bus, but at least his brain was too busy concentrating on the pain rather than on what his next move should be with Amy. If he didn’t come up with something good soon, those few kisses would be all he’d ever get, and they hadn’t been enough.
Not even close.
Ty staggered to his feet. “Another round.”
Ty liked to push himself. Matt didn’t mind doing the same, but he’d prefer to move onto something else—say a big plate of food. “I’m starving.”
“Yeah,” Ty said. “Because you skipped dinner last night. Loved getting stood up, by the way. I could have been with Mallory, and dinner with Mallory includes things you’ve never offered to do for me.”
Matt laughed. He’d have pegged Ty as the last guy on the planet to hook up with the same woman more than once, much less commit to her, but that’s exactly what Ty had done. He’d gotten serious with Mallory Quinn, Lucky Harbor’s sweetheart. “Told you,” Matt said. “Something came up.”
Like kissing Amy. “Had to see someone. About a work thing.”
“A work thing? Since when do you work at night?”
“There was a lost hiker, and some follow-up.” There. That was at least half the truth. Okay, maybe a quarter of the truth.
Ty flashed Matt a full-on smile. “You do remember I’m sleeping with the woman that Amy called first that day, right?”
Well, hell. “Fine, so I was visiting the lost hiker, who turned out to be Amy.”
“Interesting,” Ty said.
“That you only go to the diner when Amy’s working. And now you’re finding excuses to ‘visit’ her.”
Suddenly Matt was ready for round two after all. He pushed to his feet and gave Ty the “come here” gesture.
Ty, who’d never met a challenge he wasn’t up for, grinned and came at him, but Josh whistled sharply through his fingers and stopped the action cold. He gestured to Matt’s cell phone, which was buzzing on the floor.
“It’s work,” Josh said, tossing Matt the phone.
Ty sank back to the mat. “Handy, since I was going to hand you your own ass.”
“Fuck if you were,” Matt said, wisely stepping out of Ty’s arm range before answering the phone.
Thirty minutes later, Matt was showered and on his way to Squaw Flats. A group of hikers had called in to report a theft from their day camp.
Matt parked at the trailhead and hiked up to the area. He took a report for the missing gear: a camera, an iPod touch, a smartphone, and a Swiss Army Knife. The campers hadn’t bothered to lock up any of their stuff—a situation that Matt had seen a hundred times. He liked to call it the Mary Poppins Syndrome. People left the big, bad city for the mountains and figured they were safe because apparently the bad guys all stayed in the city.
The fact was that National Park Service Law Enforcement Rangers suffered the highest number of felonious assaults, as well as the highest number of homicides of all federal law enforcement officers. People never believed Matt when he spouted that fact, but it was true.
After taking the report, he spent a few hours in the area, a visible presence to deter any further felony mischief. He had four park rangers who worked beneath him, each assigned to a quadrant of the North District, and they patrolled daily, but the quadrants covered far too much area for them to be 100 percent effective.
Budget cuts sucked.
Since thieves rarely bothered to get a permit first, Matt detained everyone he came across to check them. At the south rim, he found two guys perched on a bluff, readying their ropes for a climb down into Martis Valley.
Lance and Tucker Larson were brothers, though you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Tucker was tall and athletically built. Lance was much smaller and frail as hell thanks to the cystic fibrosis ravaging his twenty-something body. They ran the ice cream shop on the Lucky Harbor pier, and when the two of them weren’t climbing, they were trouble seeking.
They both nodded at Matt, who gave them the once over, trying to decide if he needed to check their bags. The last time he’d found them up here, they’d been consuming Tucker’s homemade brownies in celebration after a climb—brownies that had made their eyes red and put stupid-ass grins on their faces.
Not to mention, brownies that were also illegal as hell.
“Hey,” Lance said with an easy smile.
Tucker, who was never friendly with anyone holding the authority to slow him down, didn’t smile. Nor did he say anything.
“Any brownies today?” Matt asked.
“No, sir,” Lance said. “No brownies on us today.”
This made Tucker smile, so no doubt they’d already done their consuming. Great. “Careful on the rocks,” Matt said. “You check our site for the latest conditions?”
“Mudslides,” Lance said with a nod. “I’m hoping to see Tucker slide down the entire rim on his ass like he did last year in this very spot.” He patted his pack. “Got my iPhone this time so I can get video for Lucille.”
Matt shook his head and left them to it, intending to head back to the station, where a mountain of paperwork waited for him. But just outside the Squaw Flats campground, he found evidence of an off-site campfire. This was illegal, especially this time of year. The campfire was abandoned, but the ashes were warm, and as he stood there, he heard the footsteps of someone running away.
There was only one reason to do that: guilt. Someone had something to hide. Matt took off running, catching up to a figure dodging through the forest, off trail. A kid, maybe a teenager. “Stop,” he said.
He didn’t stop. They never stopped.
Matt sped up and caught the back of the kid’s sweatshirt, yanking him to a halt. “Hold still,” he said, when his arsonist fought to get free.
Of course he didn’t, so Matt added a small shake to get his meaning across. The kid’s hoodie fell back from his face, exposing dirty features, a snarling mouth, eyes spitting fury, and a surprise—he was a she. A scrawny she, who was lanky lean, as if three squares hadn’t been a part of her recent program. “Let go of me!” she yelled, and kicked Matt in the shin. “Don’t touch me!”