“You’re really lost?”
Amy sighed. “Yeah, I’m really lost. Alert the media. Text Lucille.” Actually, in Lucky Harbor, Lucille was the media. Though she was seventy-something, her mind was sharp as a tack, and she used it to run Lucky Harbor’s Facebook page like New York’s Page Six.
Mallory had turned all business, using her bossy ER voice. “What trail did you start on and how long have you been moving?”
Amy did her best to recount her trek up to the point where she’d turned left at Squaw Flats. “I should have hit the meadow by now, right?”
“If you stayed on the correct trail,” Mallory agreed. “Okay, listen to me very carefully. I want you to stay right where you are. Don’t move.”
Amy looked around her, wondering what sort of animals were nearby and how much of a meal she might look like to them. “Maybe I should—”
“No,” Mallory said firmly. “I mean it, Amy. I want you to stay. People get lost up there and are never heard from again. Don’t move from that spot. I’ve got a plan.”
Amy nodded, but Mallory was already gone. Amy slipped her phone into her pocket, and though she wasn’t much for following directions, she did as Mallory had commanded and didn’t move from her spot. But she did resettle the comforting weight of her knife in her palm.
And wished for another brownie.
The forest noises started up again. Birds. Insects. Something with a howl that brought goose bumps to her entire body. She got whiplash from checking out each and every noise. But as she’d learned long ago, maintaining a high level of tension for an extended period of time was just exhausting. A good scream queen she would not make, so she pulled out her sketch pad and did her best to lose herself in drawing.
Thirty minutes later, she heard someone coming from the opposite direction she thought she’d come from. He wasn’t making much noise, but Amy was a master at hearing someone approach. She could do it in her sleep—and had. Her heart kicked hard, but these were easy, steady footsteps on the trail. Not heavy, drunken footsteps heading down the hall to her bedroom…
In either case, it certainly wasn’t Mallory. No, this was a man, light on his feet but not making any attempt to hide his approach. Amy squeezed her fingers around the comforting weight of her knife.
From around the blind curve of the trail, the man appeared. He was tall, built, and armed and dangerous, though not to her physical well-being. Nope, nothing about the tough, sinewy, gorgeous forest ranger was a threat to her body.
But Matt Bowers was lethal to her peace of mind.
She knew who he was from all the nights he’d come into the diner after a long shift, seeking food. Lucky Harbor residents fawned over him, especially the women. Amy attributed this to an electrifying mix of testosterone and the uniform. He was sipping a Big Gulp, which she’d bet her last dollar had Dr. Pepper in it. The man was a serious soda addict.
She understood his appeal, even felt the tug of it herself, but that was her body’s response to him. Her brain was smarter than the rest of her and resisted.
He wore dark, wraparound Oakley sunglasses, but she happened to know that his eyes were light brown, sharp, and missed nothing. Those eyes were in complete contrast with his smile, which was all laid-back and easygoing, and said he was a pussy cat.
That smile lied.
Nothing about Matt Bowers was sweet and tame. Not one little hair on his sun-kissed head, not a single spectacular muscle, nothing. He was trouble with a capital T, and Amy had given up trouble a long time ago.
She was still sitting on the rock outcropping, nearly out of sight of the trail, but Matt’s attention tracked straight to her with no effort at all. She sensed his wry amusement as he stopped and eyed her. “Someone send out an S.O.S.?”
She barely bit back her sigh. Dammit, Mallory. Out of all the men in all the land, you had to send this one…
When she didn’t answer, he smiled. He knew damn well she’d called Mallory, and he wanted to hear her admit that she was lost.
But she didn’t feel like it—childish and immature, she knew. The truth was, her reaction to him was just about the furthest thing from childish, and that scared her. She wasn’t ready for the likes of him, for the likes of any man. The very last thing she needed was an entanglement, even if Matt did make her mouth water, even if he did look like he knew exactly how to get her off this mountain.
Or off in general…
And if that wasn’t the most disconcerting thought she’d had in weeks…
“Mallory called the cavalry,” he said. “Figured I was the best shot you had of getting found before dark.”
Amy squared her shoulders, hoping she looked more capable than she felt. “Mallory shouldn’t have bothered you.”
He smiled. “So you did send out the S.O.S.”
Damn him and his smug smile. “Forget about it,” she said. “I’m fine. Go back to your job doing…” She waved her hand. “Whatever it is that forest rangers do, getting Yogi out of the trash, keeping the squirrels in line, et cetera.”
“Yogi and the squirrels do take up a lot of my time,” he agreed mildly. “But no worries. I can still fit you in.”
His voice always seemed to do something funny to her stomach. And lower. “Lucky me.”
“Yeah.” He took another leisurely sip of his soda. “You might not know this, but on top of keeping Yogi in line and all the squirrel wrangling I do, rescuing fair maidens is also part of my job description.”
“I’m no fair maiden—” She broke off when something screeched directly above her. Reacting instinctively, she flattened herself to the rock, completely ruining her tough-girl image.
“Just the cry of a loon,” her very own forest ranger said. “Echoing across Four Lakes.”
She straightened up just as another animal howled, and barely managed not to flinch. “That,” she said shakily, “was more than a loon.”
“A coyote,” he agreed. “And the bugling of an elk. It’s dusk. Everyone’s on the prowl for dinner. The sound carries over the lakes, making everyone seem like they’re closer than they are.”
“There’s elk around here?”
“Roosevelt Elk,” he said. “And deer, bobcats, and cougars, too.”
Amy shoved her sketch book into her backpack, ready to get the hell off the mountain.
“Whatcha got there?” he asked.
“Nothing.” She didn’t know him well enough to share her drawings, and then there was the fact that he was everything she didn’t trust: easy smile, easy nature, easy ways—no matter how sexy the packaging.
If God had meant for us to be thin, he wouldn’t have created chocolate.
Matt loved his job. Having come from first the military, then Chicago SWAT, the current shortage of blood and guts and gangbangers in his workweek was a big bonus. But his day as supervisory forest ranger for the North District had started at the ass crack of dawn, when two of his rangers had called in sick, forcing him to give the sunrise rainforest tour—a chore he ranked right up there with having a root canal.
Talking wasn’t the problem. Matt liked talking just fine, and he loved the mountain. What he didn’t love were the parents who didn’t keep track of their own children, or the divorcees who were looking for a little vacay nookie with a forest ranger, or the hard-core outdoor enthusiasts who knew… everything.
After the morning’s tour, he’d measured the snowmelt and then gone to the Eagle Rock campsites to relocate one royally pissed-off raccoon mama and her four babies from the bathroom showers. From there, he’d climbed up to Sawtooth Lake to check the east and west shorelines for reported erosion, taken steps to get that erosion under control, patrolled all the northern quadrant’s trails for a supposed Bigfoot sighting, handled some dreaded paperwork, and then come back out to rescue a fair, sweet maiden.
Only maybe not so sweet…
She was still sitting on the rock outcropping, her mile-long legs bent, her arms wrapped around them, her dark eyes giving nothing away except her mistrust, and he felt the usual punch of awareness hit him in the solar plexus.
So fucking beautiful. And so full of 100 percent, hands-off-or-die bad attitude.
She wasn’t his usual type. He preferred his women soft, warm, giving, with a nice dash of playful sexiness, so he had no idea what it was about Amy Michaels. But for the past six months, ever since she’d moved to Lucky Harbor, they’d been circling each other.
Or maybe it was just him doing the circling. Amy was doing a whole lot of ignoring, a real feat given that she’d been serving him at the diner just about every night. He could have asked her out, but he knew she wouldn’t go. She turned down everyone who asked her.
So instead Matt had regularly parked himself at Eat Me, fueling himself up on diner food and her company when he could get it. Then he’d go home and fantasize about all the other ways she might keep him company, getting off on more than a few of them.
Today she wore low-riding jeans and a black tank top that hugged her curves, revealing slightly sunburned shoulders and toned arms. Her boots had both laces and zippers. City girl boots, meant to look hot.
“You going to tell me what’s going on?” he asked.
“Nothing’s going on.”
“Uh huh.” She was revealing a whole lot of nothing. Basically, she would admit to being lost over her own dead body.
Usually people were happy to see him, but not this woman. Never this woman, and it was a little baffling. He knew from watching her at the diner, serving everyone from the mayor to raunchy truckers with the same impassive efficiency, that she had a high bullshit meter and a low tolerance for anything that wasn’t delivered straight up. “So Mallory’s what, on crack?” he asked.
“She thinks she’s funny.”
“So… you’re good?”
“Pretty much,” she said.