Christ. She was maybe sixteen. He let her loose, but before she could so much as lift another foot in his direction, he gave her a hard look. “Don’t even think about it.”
She lifted her chin in a show of bravado and crossed her arms tightly over herself. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Her voice was cultured and educated, but her clothes were dirty and torn and barely fit her. “Then why did you run?” he asked.
“Because you were chasing me.” She didn’t add the duh; she didn’t have to—it was implied.
“Where’re your parents?” Matt asked.
Her face was closed off and sullen. “I don’t have to answer any of your stupid questions.”
“You’re a minor alone in the woods,” he pointed out.
He gave her a long look, which she returned evenly. He held out his hand. “ID.”
She produced an ID card from her ratty, old-looking backpack, careful to not let him see inside, which reminded him of yet another prickly female he’d come across, two nights ago now.
The girl’s ID was issued by the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles for one Riley Taylor. The picture showed a cleaner version of the face in front of him, and the birth date did indeed proclaim her eighteen as of two weeks ago.
Handing the ID back, he nodded his chin toward the trail from which he’d come. “Was that your campfire back there?”
Her gaze darted away from his. “No.”
Bullshit. “You need a permit or a paid campsite to overnight out here.”
She just stared stonily at a spot somewhere over his shoulder. “I know that.”
More bullshit. Matt eyed her backpack. “Some folks about a mile west of here were ripped off earlier today. You know anything about that?”
“What’s in your backpack?”
She hugged it to her chest. “Stuff. My stuff.”
His ass. The only thing that saved her was that when he’d grabbed her a minute ago, her backpack had seemed nearly empty. Far too empty to be carrying the stolen loot. She’d either fenced it already or she’d stashed it somewhere. “What are you doing out here?”
“With your family?”
A slight hesitation. “Yeah,” she said.
More bullshit. “Where?”
“Brockway Springs.” Again her gaze darted away.
She was racking up the lies now. Plus Brockway Springs was a campground about seven miles to the east. “That’s a long way from here.”
“Look,” he said. “You shouldn’t be out here alone. You need to go back to your family. I’ll give you a ride.”
“No!” She took a breath and visibly calmed herself. “No,” she said more quietly. “I don’t take rides from strangers. I’m leaving now.”
With no reason to detain her, there was little Matt could do to stop her. “Put your ID away so you don’t lose it.”
She once again opened her backpack, and he made no attempt to disguise the fact that he took a good look inside. A bottle of water, what looked like a spare shirt, and a flashlight. He put his hand on her arm. “Where did you get that flashlight?”
“I’ve had it forever.”
It was the same model and make of flashlight that had gone missing off Matt’s bumper the other night. It was also the most common flashlight sold in the area. More than half the people on this mountain had one just like it.
Riley zipped up her backpack, or tried to, but the ragged zipper caught. This didn’t slow her down. She merely hugged the thing to her chest and took off, and in less than ten seconds, was swallowed up by the woods.
Matt shook his head and went back to the station, but he didn’t sit more than thirty minutes behind his desk before he was called back out. Being supervisor of the district required him to wear many hats: firefighter, EMT, cop, S&R. Over the next several hours, he used the S&R hat to rescue two kayakers from the Shirley River, which at this time of year was gushing with snow melt. Finicky and dangerous, the river had been closed off to water play. But the kayakers had ignored the warning signs and had gone out anyway, then got stuck on the fast rushing water.
It took Matt, his rangers, and an additional crew from the south district to get the kayakers safely out of the water. Two rangers were injured in the rescue, but even after all that, the kayakers refused to leave, saying they had the right to do as they wanted on public land.
Matt ended up forcibly evicting them for violating park laws, and when they argued, he banned them for the rest of the season just because they were complete assholes.
Sometimes it was good to wear the badge.
Now down two rangers, he went on with his work. He assisted in the daily reporting on the condition of the trails, tracked the movement of various wildlife as required by one of the federal conservation agencies, then checked on the small forest fire that was burning on the far south end—which was thankfully 95 percent contained, which was good. By the end of his shift, he was hot, sweaty, tired, and starving. But before he left the area, he took the time to drive by the campsite where Riley had said her family was staying to check the registers. Easy enough to do, it was early in the season, and the snow had barely melted off in the past few weeks. He had four sites booked at this time, and only one of those sites had been booked by a family.
When he pulled up, that family was standing around their campfire roasting hot dogs and corn on the cob. His mouth watered. He’d had a sandwich hours and hours ago, before the river rescue.
The campers didn’t have a teenage daughter.
Which meant that his dinner was going to have to wait. Turning his truck around, he headed back up the fire road to the site of the illegal campfire, where earlier he’d found the teen girl.
The fire was still out and still emitting residual warmth. Huddled up as close as she could get to it in the quickly cooling evening sat Riley.
She took one look at him and leapt to her feet.
He pointed at her as he got out of his truck. “Don’t,” he warned. “I’m not in the mood for another run through the woods.” He was tired as shit and hungry, dammit.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, still as a deer caught in headlights, though not nearly as innocent as any Bambi.
“That’s my question for you.”
“I have rights,” she said.
“You lied to me.”
Her eyes flashed. “You weren’t going to believe anything I told you!”
“Not true,” he told her. “And for future reference, lying to law enforcement officers isn’t a smart move. It makes them not trust you.”
“Oh, please.” Her stance was slouched, sullen. Defensive. “You didn’t trust me before I even opened my mouth.”
“Because you ran from me.”
“Okay, well, now I know. You don’t like running or lying. Jeez.”
“I don’t like attitude either,” he said.
She tossed up her hands. “Well, what do you like?”
“Not much today. Where’s your family, Riley?”
“Okay, fine, I’m not with my family. But you saw my ID. I’m eighteen now. I’m on my own.”
“Where did you come from?”
Well wasn’t that nice and vague. “What are you doing in town?”
He sighed. This conversation was like running in circles. “What friends?”
“I watch all the cop shows, you know.” She crossed her arms. “I don’t have to tell you anything.”
Christ. “Fine.” He gestured back to his truck. “Let’s go.”
“Wait—What?” Her eyes got huge, and she scrambled back a few feet. “You can’t arrest me.”
“Have you done something arrest worthy?” he asked.
“Then you’re not getting arrested. I’m driving you into town. To your friends.” And then he planned to call his friend Sheriff Sawyer Thompson to run her ID to see if she was a person of interest or reported as missing.
She looked away. “I don’t need a ride.”
“You’re not sleeping out here tonight. Get in the truck.”
She threw her backpack into the truck bed with enough attitude to give him a starter headache. Then she climbed into the passenger seat and slammed the door.
Matt drew a deep breath and walked around to the driver’s side. He drove her attitude-ridden ass into town, wondering what it was with him and stubborn females this week.
In the heavy silence of the truck cab, Riley’s stomach grumbled. She ignored both it and Matt, keeping her face firmly turned toward the window. But by the time they drove down the main drag of Lucky Harbor, her stomach was louder than the venomous thoughts she was sending his way.
“Where to?” he asked.
Here was the corner where the pier met the beach. “Your friends live on the pier?” he asked dryly.
“I’ll walk to their place.” Her stomach cut her off with yet another loud rumble.
Matt sighed and pulled into the pier parking lot.
Riley immediately reached for the door handle but Matt gripped the back of her sweatshirt. “Not so fast.”
She stiffened. “I’m not thanking you for the ride with anything that involves me losing my clothes.”
Jesus, he thought, his gut squeezing hard. “I’m not looking for a thank-you at all, but I’m not dropping you off on the damn corner. I’m taking you into the diner to feed you.”
She stared at him. “Why?”
“Because you’re hungry. And no,” he said before she could speak again. “I don’t expect a thank-you for that either.”
Like a cornered, injured, starving animal, she didn’t so much as blink, and he felt the punch of her mistrust more forcibly than he’d felt Ty’s right uppercut this morning.